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8 May, 2013 20:50

‘Like 1984, only worse’: UK may resurrect ‘snooper’s charter’

‘Like 1984, only worse’: UK may resurrect ‘snooper’s charter’

The controversial bill dubbed as “a snooper’s charter’, which would allow the government to track everyone’s email, Internet and cell phone texts usage, might have new life, today’s Queens’s speech revealed.

Proposals published as a part of the Queen's speech, which kicks off the start of the new parliamentary year in the UK, confirmed that the government has been in contact with Internet providers and is still considering passing new legislation which bears similarity to the draft Communications Data Bill (CDB) published last year.

"The Government is committed to ensuring that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the powers they need to protect the public and ensure national security,” Downing Street stated in a briefing note published alongside the speech.

"Communications data helps to keep the public safe: it is used by the police to investigate crimes, bring offenders to justice and save lives."

The speech noted that the problem of matching Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to people would be met with government proposals which would both enable “the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace.”

"The government is looking at ways of addressing this issue with computer service providers. It may involve legislation,” the proposals state.

The issue at hand refers to collating any given IP address with a specific individual using it, or in the case of Internet service providers who use the same IP address for more than one customer, identifying the correct user, Ben Woods from ZDNet reports.

Currently, British security services have the power to both identify and locate who has made a telephone call or sent a text message. However, Internet communications such as emails, instant messages, and Skype are identified and stored by their IP address as opposed to individual users.

The draft CDB would have required Internet service providers to store web browsing history, details of messages sent over social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter and voice calls made over the web. The legislation stipulated that this information would be retained for a year, with police being empowered to access it without first asking permission if they are currently investigating a crime. 

Downing Street was quick to assuage public fears, claiming the new proposal “is not about indiscriminately accessing internet data of innocent members of the public, it is about ensuring that police and other law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to investigate the activities of criminals that take place online as well as offline."

In April, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg claimed ‘the snoopers’ charter’ would not pass as long as his party was a part of the coalition government.

"In other words the idea that the government will pass a law which means there will be a record kept of every website you visit, who you communicate with on social media sites, that's not going to happen."

"It's certainly not going to happen with Liberal Democrats in government," Clegg vowed. 

However, Clegg has already shown a willingness to accept a watered down version of the initial draft, having agreed to the language in the Downing Street briefing note published alongside the Queen’s speech along with Prime Minister David Cameron.

Home Secretary Theresa May for her part still hopes to revive the bill in its totality, having long insisted the measures are necessary for police to keep pace with terrorists, major criminals and paedophiles in the digital age.

While May has long insisted that CDB proposals did not amount to snooping, Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party, said the law by its very definition is about tracking innocent citizens.

"It doesn't matter what they intend to use the law for. Tracking the conversations of people who are not under suspicion of a crime is itself criminal, end of story. It doesn't matter how noble your goals are," Falkvinge argues.

He believes the mass degradation of civil liberties is a matter of utility, as UK authorities would rather take a shotgun approach to surveillance rather than systematically identify and target those suspected of crimes. 

“We have observed the surveillance state remove the requirements for a warrant to wiretap people. Apparently, it's now too inefficient to violate people's privacy one by one, so legislators would rather violate everybody's privacy all the time instead. It's like 1984, only worse," Falkvinge continued.