Yesterday the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, introduced the new Counter-terrorism and security bill to Parliament. It was no coincidence that this followed the report, published the day before, into the killing of soldier Lee Rigby, which was aimed squarely at placing the blame for the murder not with the well documented failures of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ but with social media, specifically Facebook. The bill covers a variety of measures, most of which are open to legal challenge. In this aspect the bill is no different from the Rigby report by the ISC (Intelligence & Security Committee) in that both are based on unintelligent thinking and blatent fear-mongering. Two of the more contentious issues of the bill are outlined below; also, why the ISC proposal that social media companies do the work of the British (and US?) security services is entirely impractical.
Firstly, the ISC report on the Rigby murder. UndercoverInfo has already published comments on this report, but it is also worth quoting Glenn Greenwald’s reaction (published over the last 24 hours in The Intercept).
Greenwald commented, “…predictably, the (ISC) report… demands changes to the legal obligations of U.S. social media companies “either through legislation” in the U.S. or “by a treaty with the UK which places an obligation on US companies to provide this information” – i.e., whatever is requested by the UK Government.”
He added: “Sir Malcolm’s report itself recognizes that “the companies we contacted all confirmed that, if UK authorities requested information in an emergency situation, they would provide that information.” And Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft and the like continue to be in bed with the U.S. and UK National Security State in all sorts of untoward ways. It’s stunning that anyone could maintain a straight face while depicting Facebook, of all companies, as some sort of excessive privacy guardian. As the Guardian‘s Travis noted, “Facebook even has a team in Dublin handling standard British requests and another dedicated team in California dealing with emergencies.”
In other words what the ISC is proposing is a formal arrangement with Facebook and other social media companies. But the practicalities of what the ISC is suggesting have clearly not been thought through and even former MI6/MI5 chief Richard Barrett agreed – presumably to the embarrassment of the ISC – that Facebook alone has more than five billions posts a day, which are, of course, impossible to check up on.
One of the more contentious sections of the bill concerns a proposal to force all ISPs to hand over, on request, details of users and the websites they visit. In order for these companies to be able to do that they will need to keep a database that stores all this information in a readily available format. But the implication, of course, is that in doing this these companies would be snooping on their entire customer base, whether they be Internet users via PCs, tablets or smart phones.
Another is the section of the bill that proposes the Government prevents UK citizens who are suspected of being terrorists or of aiding terrorists from returning home, albeit for a maximum of two years, unless they agree to stringent restrictions once they are back on British soil. This has been widely criticised, not least by a former MI6 chief and a former Tory Attorney-General. The problem here is that even with the two years maximum this still equates to exile – a practice not used by the British since colonial days and which is actually illegal under international convention, including UN convention, and could be challenged in the European courts.
All in all, the British Government appears to be proposing changes in the law that are actually illegal or completely impractical (and so untenable).