THE Queen’s speech for 2012 has revealed the range of internet snooping laws and intrusions into daily live of all UK citizens which are to be brought into law by the increasingly hated Conservative-LibDem coalition Government at Westminster.
While some claim the spying charter for prying into the every day lives of everyone who lives in, visits for business or holidays in or even flies over the UK & uses UK based internet servers, will have safeguards from the engathered information being misused, most believe the plans, which an earlier Labour Government had to abandon after criticisms from the Conservatives, are measures now being boosted by the current UK ConDem Government to tackle dissent and protest against unpopular Government policies.
A Civil Rights campaigner speaking to Scottish Law Reporters branded the new spying powers as ‘draconian’. He also alleged the latest moves on internet spying were being put in place to legitimise the highly secretive & already stiff surveillance techniques used by the UK Government on all internet & email users.
An insider has tipped off the media over plans to retain surveillance data on “persons of interest” for an indefinite period, although how a person is defined as “a person of interest” appears to be left to the imagination of anyone with access to spying powers. “Persons of interest” currently include campaigners, those who write to their elected politicians, people in trouble with the Police, journalists, some doctors, scientists, people with a public profile and politicians who are not considered to act in the interests of the current Government.
Interestingly, web surveillance of foreign visitors to the UK is to be referred to in a case in the US Courts later this year, where an American businessman is to allege “commercial secrets from his firm’s email accounts were hacked & passed by a UK Government agency” to a competitor company in the UK.
GCHQ will of course, also be able to monitor all internet & email traffic in Scotland. It is thought the legislation will also be used in an attempt to clamp down on independence activists who campaign for an independent Scotland.
Plans to make it easier for the police and intelligence agencies to monitor e-mails, phone calls and internet use have been unveiled, but with promises of "strict safeguards". The Draft Communications Bill would update existing procedures for allowing access to "vital" information. This includes phone numbers and e-mail addresses but not content of messages. Civil liberties groups said they were dismayed by the plan, which they described as a "snooper's charter". The issue has caused friction within the coalition amid criticism from some Lib Dem and Conservative MPs.
The government argues the law needs to keep pace with technological changes and enable the security services to confront changing threats to the UK. The proposed UK-wide legislation, which has been published in draft form, would seek to "maintain the ability" of the authorities "to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public". It would update the rules governing how information can be collected and retained by mobile and internet firms in a "lawful and efficient" manner and ensure it "remains available" to the authorities to protect the public.
At the moment basic information can be accessed by police, intelligence agencies or other public bodies without any external authorisation - simply by a senior official within the organisation signing the request off.
But security experts say existing laws date back to 2000 and they are not equipped to cover social media, Skype and other methods of communication. Ministers are stressing that the police and other bodies will not be allowed to look at the content of e-mails or text messages without a warrant, as is the case now.
Instead, access would be limited - as now - to details of when conversations took place, for how long and where someone was when they made a call. However, the police would be able to see which websites someone had visited.
The government have outlined a number of safeguards which they hope will allay fears about the plans. They include:
A 12-month limit on how long data can be retained
Measures to prevent unauthorised access
Strengthening independent oversight
Boosting the role of tribunals to consider complaints
But campaign group Liberty said the proposals threatened individual privacy and suggested the coalition had gone back on a pledge on coming to office to end the storage of web and e-mail records "without good reason".
"Two years ago, the coalition bound itself together with promises and action to protect our rights and freedoms," said its director Shami Chakrabarti.
"As the strains of governing in a recession begin to show, politicians of all parties should remember the values we are all supposed to share."
And former shadow home secretary David Davis, a frequent critic of the extension of state powers, said the proposals would be costly to implement and were "very similar" to the last Labour government's plans for a communications database dropped following Tory opposition.
He told MPs it would be "pretty straightforward" for terrorists to avoid scrutiny under the plans by using proxy servers and multiple phones. "We will create something which will not be effective against terrorism but which will be a general purpose surveillance on the entire nation."
The proposals sparked a row when they were first floated in April, with critics describing them as a "Big Brother" move.
Newspaper reports suggested GCHQ, the government's listening agency, would be authorised to monitor internet traffic in "real time" using so-called "black box" technology.
A spokesman for the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham said the "case for this proposal still has to be made". "We shall expect to see strong and convincing safeguards and limitations to accompany the bill," he said in a statement.
Prime Minister David Cameron has said any gaps in security must be plugged and it is the government's responsibility to do everything they can to keep the country safe. And the plans were backed by Conservative MP Bob Stewart who said granting access to such information would be justified if it "saved lives".
And Lib Dem MP Martin Horwood said it should be possible to "strike a perfectly good balance" between protecting traditional freedoms and applying the principles of existing legislation to new technology to "prevent our security services falling behind".