Treasure trove of opinion on the Communications Bill

The Communications Bill is designed to widen the scope of data retained by ISPs, and to make access to that data simpler and faster for relevant agencies. The bill attempts to make a distinction between communications data (CD) and content. Agencies would be able to access CD without a court order and effectively in real time. Content would still require a warrant. ISPreview explains the old and the new: “The existing law requires internet providers to maintain a very basic log of their customers internet and email accesses (times, dates and IP addresses) for 12 months, which does NOT include the content of your communication and only occurs after a specific request is made to the ISP (most ISPs already keep simple short-term logs).” But the new law, it says, “threatens to expand those access logs to collect even more detail (e.g. chat logs for online games, Skype call logs etc) and would also aim to make them more accessible to ‘the police and others with powers to intercept’. This could result in security services being given almost real-time access to the ISPs database...”

Needless to say, the written evidence includes all opinions possible, ranging from supportive organiztions such as the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) and HMRC to highly critical individuals (such as Caspar Bowden) and organizations such as Liberty. SOCA would prefer data retention for longer than 12 months, but won’t press for it. It notes that criminals already evade detection, but that the bill will make it more difficult for them to do so. HMRC says the bill will aid its work: “CD provides intelligence to support operational activity leading to arrests, and seizures of money and contraband. It is also adduced in evidence to support criminal prosecutions.”

Caspar Bowden is unequivocal: “The Communications Data Bill is the most dangerous long-term threat to a free society ever proposed by a democratic government, and should be rejected in its entirety.” Liberty is gentler in its argument, but with a similar conclusion: “Liberty has never opposed targeted surveillance with prior authorisation, on the basis of individual suspicion, but this Draft Bill amounts to nothing less than blanket surveillance of the population at large, turning a nation of citizens into a nation of suspects.”

Wikimedia, which operates Wikipedia, says simply, “in its current state the Bill is not fit for purpose,” and adds, “this extent of collection of data has only been implemented nationally in China, Iran and Kazakhstan and... has not been done in a democratic country.”

The bill actually goes beyond digital data, and will also encompass physical mail. Nathan Allonby raises a point on postal communications that many will think applies equally to digital communications. First he says that “there is no evidence of need and no justification for the postal data retention provisions in the Bill,” and then asks, “If this legislation for postal data-retention is not being introduced in response to combat a new type of crime, is it instead being introduced due to technological feasibility, i.e., is this being introduced because it has become possible and easy to implement rather than because it is necessary to fight crime?”

In all, the evidence runs to 444 pages of comment from more than 90 individuals, organizations and businesses.

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