Communications Bill: ICO demands information; academics call it naive

On 11 April the ICO issued an Information Notice on the Home Office in relation to a Freedom of Information request from Conservative MP Dominic Raab. Raab wants information on the Bill's proposed 'filtering' system  but the Home Office has refused, citing national security. Raab referred his request to the ICO, who has issued a notice giving the Home Office 30 working days to provide sufficient information for it to make a ruling on whether the request should be enforced. If the Home Office refuses to provide the information, it could face legal action to force its hand.

At the heart of Raab's request is the Bill's proposed filtering system for the public's communications. Raab wants details on the advice received by the government. There are concerns amongst privacy activists that the filtering system amounts to a private government search engine on a national database of all communications maintained for the government by the ISPs - something that Raab calls "a tectonic shift in the relationship between the citizen and the state."

A few days later, in a letter written on 14 April to David Cameron by leading security experts (including Dr Brian Gladman, a former Director for Defence Acquisition) and academics (including Professor Ross Anderson from Cambridge and Dr Ian Brown from Oxford), the Bill is described as naïve and technically dangerous. The letter notes that parliament has a poor record in internet legislation, pointing to the earlier Digital Economy Act as "both unworkable and unhelpful," and "a technically inept political totem."

The letter warns that the Communications Bill "will be expensive, will hinder innovation and will undermine the privacy of citizens visiting specialist websites (such as advice on pregnancy, HIV and mental health)." Moreover, the bill can do nothing to help the police "monitor criminals who chat via social media." In short, the Bill will monitor generally law-abiding citizens, but do nothing to help the police catch serious criminals or terrorists. It suggests that money would be better spent on more police officers, improved forensics, and on international collaboration to tackle cybercrime,

"We urge the Government to abandon the Communications Data Bill and to work with the technical community and the police to meet the real challenges of law enforcement in a connected world, rather than imposing a policy that poses a significant risk the UK’s economic and political interests," concludes the letter.

Meanwhile, there are concerns that parliament is being asked to approve a Bill that it is not allowed to understand.

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