UK Communications Bill ill-thought says Law Society

The Law Society’s submission to the parliamentary Joint Select Committee examining the Draft Communications Data Bill has been published online. It recognizes the desire for more intelligence to fight crime and terrorism, but believes that this is not the solution both on technical and privacy grounds. It notes, for example, Privacy International’s claim “that the only other countries in the world that have the kind of mass surveillance systems that are proposed are China, Iran and Kazakhstan.”

The Law Society also draws a comparison between a large centralized government database (now rejected by the coalition government following extensive public and political objections) and the current proposal to make the ISPs store the data. “It is clear that a single, central database captures the public imagination in a way that highlights the privacy and security issues at stake,” it says. “It is not clear, however, that numerous privately owned databases are less privacy intrusive. Mass surveillance of innocent people is still being proposed.”

A spokesman suggested that government claims that privacy will be maintained are disingenuous. “The government claims its proposals are not intrusive because it is only going to collect communications data, not contents data. But if the government knows the destination of your emails, for instance, then it knows what you are doing.” He is also concerned on technical grounds. While other critics have pointed out that criminals will easily evade the surveillance, the spokesperson wondered how the government will be able to separate traffic data from content data. “It is easy to separate the communication data from the content data in an email because emails are standard and you can write a program to do the job. Social media are all written in different ways – there are no standardized protocols – so how can you separate the two types of data?”

Campaign group No2ID offered its own submission of evidence to the Joint Select Committee examining the Draft Communications Data Bill, but received no acknowledgement. When it queried this, it got an email reply saying “I cannot see that we did in fact receive your submission, so I wonder whether you would mind sending it again?” However, the same email pointed out that it is not standard practice to acknowledge all submissions, and that the committee had received 19,000 submissions. The committee is now taking oral evidence.

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