There has been some criticism in the UK media that the Queen’s Speech this morning, setting out the Government’s legislative program for the forthcoming year amid lavish traditional ceremony at the House of Lords, lasted a mere 15 minutes. Despite the apparent brevity of Her Majesty’s Speech, she did make one significant announcement on an issue very close to this Kat’s heart.
Indeed, at 5 mins 16 seconds into her Speech, Her Majesty stated:
My Government intends to bring forward measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses.The Briefing Notes provided by the Cabinet Office contain further details. They state that:
The purpose of the draft Bill is to:
- The draft Bill would protect the public by ensuring that law enforcement agencies and others continue to have access to communications data so that they can bring offenders to justice.
- Communications data is information about a communication, not the communication itself. Communication data is NOT the content of any communication - the text of an email, or conversation on a telephone.
- Communications data includes the time and duration of the communication, the telephone number or email address which has been contacted and sometimes the location of the originator of the communication.
- The ability of the police and intelligence agencies to continue to access communications data which is vital in supporting their work in protecting the public.
- An updated framework for the collection, retention and acquisition of communications data which enables a flexible response to technological change.
- Establishing an updated framework for the collection and retention of communications data by communication service providers (CSPs) to ensure communications data remains available to law enforcement and other authorised public authorities.
- Establishing an updated framework to facilitate the lawful, efficient and effective obtaining of communications data by authorised public authorities including law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
- Establishing strict safeguards including: a 12 month limit of the length of time for which communications data may be retained by CSPs and measures to protect the data from unauthorised access or disclosure. (It will continue to be the role of the Information Commissioner to keep under review the operation of the provisions relating to the security of retained communications data and their destruction at the end of the 12 month retention period).
- Providing for appropriate independent oversight including: extending the role of the Interception of Communications Commissioner to oversee the collection of communications data by communications service providers; providing a communications service provider with the ability to consult an independent Government / Industry body (the Technical Advisory Board) to consider the impact of obligations placed upon them; extending the role of the independent Investigatory Powers Tribunal (made up of senior judicial figures) to ensure that individuals have a proper avenue of complaint and independent investigation if they think the powers have been used unlawfully.
- Removing other statutory powers with weaker safeguards to acquire communications data.
Not surprisingly, there have been a number of comments on the proposal for a Draft Communications Data Bill in the Queen's Speech. For example ...
The Information Commissioner's Office stated:
We are waiting to see the detail of what is proposed, including any role envisaged for the Information Commissioner. We shall then have to judge whether the Commissioner's current powers are adequate for the task or whether additional powers and resources will be needed. It remains our position that the case for this proposal still has to be made, and we shall expect to see strong and convincing safeguards and limitations to accompany the Bill.Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch stated:
If someone is suspected of plotting an attack the powers already exist to tap their phone, read their email and follow them on the street. Instead of scaremongering, the Home Office should come forward and engage with the debate about how we improve public safety, rather than pursue a policy that will indiscriminately spy on everyone online while the real threats are driven underground and escape surveillance.
The Home Office have been very good at saying what the problem is, but seem intent on keeping the technical details of what they are proposing secret. Is it any wonder that the public are scared by a proposal for online surveillance not seen in any other Western democracy.Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group stated:
This is a direct attack on the Coalition's promise to end the storage of email data without good reason.The IPKat no longer thinks that this is all rather funny. Even though any surveillance might not know that he was a fictional cat, he would rather that it did not know about his liking for Hello Kitty toasters, concerns for privacy in celebrity sex tapes and interest in whether Kate Middleton's fashion choices are newsworthy...
Gaining access to your Facebook and Google data without court supervision is not preserving powers, it is a massive extension of the ability of a police officer to see what you are doing.
It would be wide open to abuse, endangering whistleblowers and journalists' sources.
The interception powers open a whole new can of worms. No law has ever previously claimed that people's communications data should be collected by third parties just in case. This data has never been previously collected.
This Bill could mark the end of the government's reputation as a force for protecting our freedom and privacy. They should scrap it now.
Merpel doesn't need to ask readers what they think: she has already found out ... but she isn't going to say how.