While it was previously thought that only intelligence, police and tax agencies in the United Kingdom would be able to peer into the private lives of citizens under the so-called “Snoopers’ Charter,” it is now being reported that dozens of public entities could have the same access.
This situation seems quite a bit like the proposed legislation in the United States known as CISPA where a massive number of entities have access to highly personal information. Similarly, as End the Lie recently reported, under the Next Generation Identification program many entities (including non-governmental ones) would have access to private biometric information.
Even giving such wide ranging access to personal information to “the taxman,” as the Telegraph put it, under the Communication Data Act seems absurd. It seems a great deal like how the American IRS claims the authority to read emails and other electronic communications without a warrant.
The proposed legislation ran into a lot of opposition last year with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg saying a “fundamental rethink” was needed but with the support of powerful individuals it has made a return.
Under the Communications Data Act, all internet service providers would be forced to keep all records of the online activities of their customers for 12 months.
These records would include every single email, every posting on any social networking site or other forum and even all video or telephone calls made over the internet.
The ability of this legislation to continue to rear its ugly head seems to be largely based on the claim from Home Secretary Theresa May that it is vital to combat terrorism and other serious offenses and the “need for new laws.”
Even if that is the case, does it mean that all of the agencies reported by the Telegraph actually need all that access?
The agencies that have applied to use the powers under the Communication Data Act “include nine Whitehall departments, NHS trusts, the Environment Agency, the Charity Commission and the Pensions Regulator,” according to the Telegraph.
While some in the UK government continue to claim it is needed to fight terrorism and serious crime, the Home Office confirmed that it is considering all submissions from public bodies. This obviously begs the question, what kind of terrorism and serious crime is the Charity Commission and Environment Agency fighting?
“This scheme is Orwellian,” said Dominic Raab, one of the 40 Conservative Members of Parliament standing against the legislation, according to the Telegraph.
“Intrusive surveillance powers should be limited to pursuing terrorists, pedophiles and villains – not enabling jobsworth inspectors at the Health and Safety Executive or council busybodies to snoop into the private lives of ordinary citizens,” Raab said.
The Home Office said 36 “groups” had submitted a “business case” stating that they wanted to be able to use the Communications Data Bill powers last year after a Freedom of Information Act request from privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch.
However, as the Telegraph points out, the Home Office “counted local authorities and NHS trusts once each, making it unclear how many individual councils or health trusts were involved. Fire authorities, the Food Standards Agency and the Gambling Commission also submitted cases.”
The bodies allowed to have access to the information under the proposed legislation would, according to the Telegraph, have to obtain a warrant to see the content of a message.
“A spokesman for the Health and Safety Executive said its officials used such powers rarely and only to help in its criminal investigations,” according to the Telegraph.
A spokesman for the Home Office said that ultimately Parliament would decide which bodies would have access to the records under the legislation.
The Communications Data Act is slated to be included in the Queen’s Speech next month.
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