Why the police want access to your emails, texts and calls
New law, dubbed a 'snooper's charter', will give police access to more mobile and online data than ever
THE GOVERNMENT was accused of resorting to Big Brother tactics today as it published a draft communications bill requiring internet and phone companies to track email, social media and other online data.
Telecoms companies are already required to give police access to the communications data they retain for their own billing and business purposes. But the Home Office says this only meets around three-quarters of police requests due to the changing nature of the internet and increased use of social media forums which do not appear on an itemised bill like mobile phone calls.
The new bill, dubbed by critics a 'snooper's charter', requires telecoms companies to obtain and retain information such as the time, duration, originator and recipient of an email, text, mobile call or social media activity for 12 months. However, police would not be able to access the content of the communication itself without a warrant signed by the home secretary.
Former Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis has said despite content being inaccessible the move is still "incredibly intrusive". He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If they really want to do things like this – and we all accept they use data to catch criminals – get a warrant."
Rachel Robinson, policy officer for Liberty, told the BBC that law enforcement should be targeting specific suspects not all citizens. "Just like the internet, any private home can be a crime scene," she said, "but should we install hidden cameras and microphones in every bedroom in the land?"
And then there is the cost. According to The Guardian's home affairs editor Alan Travis, the Home Office has confirmed it will foot the bill for companies collecting and storing the extra information, which could run into tens and possibly hundreds of millions of pounds.
Travis writes that, under the legislation, the "government is to offer a blank cheque to internet and phone firms that will be required to track everyone's email, Twitter, Facebook and other internet use".
But Home Secretary Theresa May wrote in The Sun today that she could not understand why people might criticise the proposals. "I have no doubt conspiracy theorists will come up with some ridiculous claims about how these measures are an infringement of freedom. But without changing the law, the only freedom we would protect is that of criminals, terrorists and paedophiles,” she said.
The commissioner of the Met Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe, echoed her point in The Times today, insisting that increased access is "a matter of life or death".
He said communications data has played a role in jailing murderers such as Levi Bellfield and Ian Huntley, as well as in 95 per cent of serious organised crime operations and every big counterterrorism operation over the past decade.
"Put simply," says Hogan-Howe, "the police need access to this information to keep up with the criminals who bring so much harm to victims and our society."
But if that's not convincing enough, Digital Spy today pointed readers who want to preserve their privacy towards free training seminars run by the Open Rights Group for British citizens who want to "preserve internet freedom".