Tuesday 8 July 2014

In the UK, Renewed Interest in a "Snooper's Charter"

The Guardian reports that the UK government is considering measures requiring phone companies to retain detailed records about phone calls, text messages, and internet activity in response to new threats to national security.  This latest effort follows a failed attempt at similar legislation last year (dubbed the "snooper's charter" by opponents), when the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats banded with outside groups to defeat the efforts. UK Home Secretary Theresa May, a chief proponent of the law last year, insists that these measures are essential in the face of new threats by groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS.

The Guardian reports on the details of the proposed legislation, which is expected to pass:
"Any new 'snooper's charter' bill would require a vast extension of the communications data that the phone and internet companies are currently required to retain. It would mean the retention of all data tracking everyone's use of the internet and mobile phones, including every web page visited, and not just the bare details kept for billing purposes by the companies."
The UK government has launched an effort to generate support for the emergency measures, emphasizing the harm the government is seeking to prevent.  The UK Home Office shared their official stance on the matter with The Guardian, saying, "The retention of communications data is absolutely fundamental to ensure law enforcement have the powers they need to investigate crime, protect the public and ensure national security."

The government feels especially pressured to act given that, in April, the European court of justice (ECJ) ruled against surveillience programs put into effect in 2009, saying that it was "too sweeping."  The Guardian reports, "The government appears to have secured support from Labour and the Lib Dems to reinstate the surveillance laws after the ECJ struck them down. But the Lib Dems are insisting that the plan will not amount to the reintroduction of the so-called 'snooper's charter' – the communications data bill – that split the coalition and was ditched in 2013."

Essentially, the government is pushing for efforts less invasive than those implemented in the past and those proposed last year.  While the details that distinguish this plan from the others are important in evaluating the plans, there seems to be concerning support for programs premised on the idea that greater surveillance amounts to greater security.  Where exactly is that "line in the sand" previous "snooper's charter" opponents drew as it relates to this latest effort?  What about shorter timeframes of record-keeping really makes this acceptable?

Read more about the UK government's latest effort at The Guardian.

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