The July 7, 2005, London Bombings have been invoked as a justification for Theresa May’s Communications Data Bill, which is being critiqued by MPs over the next couple of weeks. If implemented Britain will be the most snooped on democracy in the world.
“The people who say they’re against this bill need to look victims of serious crime, terrorism and child sex offences in the eye and tell them why they’re not prepared to give the police the powers they need to protect the public,” retorted the Home Secretary.
May suggested the new legislation is needed to prevent another 7/7 style terrorist attack or the shootings of two female police officers in Manchester in September. She did not however explain how it would do so.
The controversial new laws will allow authorities access to every telephone, mobile and Internet communication made in the UK. The content of the communications will not be stored, rather logs will be kept of who the communication was between, its duration and when & where it took place. While the Bill’s advocates claim it will not widen the police’s traditional scope of surveillance, nor give them detailed personal information, civil liberties organizations are not convinced due to the nature of Internet communications.
The Open Rights Group states: “The data generated through our use of services like Facebook, Google and Twitter tells people far more about us than [traditional] phone records – it reveals our our tastes, preferences and social ‘map’. Furthermore, the distinction between ‘content’ and ‘communications data’ does not, in practice, easily hold. So to claim this is simply an ‘update’ of existing powers is not accurate.”
The Home Office will require Internet Service Providers to store the web-pages customers visit for 12 months; Facebook, Twitter and other social media websites included. The use of Skype and online gaming will also be tracked in the name of national security.
Invoking the 7/7 bombings as a pretext for the snooping is a cheap but not surprising tactic. Considering the Government have not proven in a court of law who carried out the attacks and by what method, quite how the new system would have prevented the explosions like May claims is unclear.
If we assume the alleged bombers are guilty, at least two of them, Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer were on MI5’s radar months before the attacks. They were photographed, bugged, tailed, Khan was linked to a vehicle and both were noted as trustees of an Islamic book shop. They were also surrounded by a group of probable intelligence assets that may have been passing information to the security services. All of this was accomplished under current surveillance laws.
In that sense the fault was not with the legal remit of surveillance, but the state’s criminally negligent or deliberate inability to interpret and cross reference the data they obtained.
The Home Office have assured us that the new databases won’t be monitored, only accessed when a crime is suspected. If that’s the case, as shown with 7/7 the law already permits the use of wiretapping and surveillance, as it does with email monitoring too. Recent trials also show us that the police already monitor social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Although Nick Clegg apparently wants to veto the bill, he doesn’t have a particularly good track record when it comes to promises or standing up to the Conservatives.