ISIS jihadists must be dancing in the proverbial streets on hearing the news that the Tory Government in the UK will be proceeding to introduce new and expanded legislation to censor news (via an extremism act) and ensure Britain becomes a truly total surveillance society (via a replacement for the communications data bill). Should the Tories succeed in these endeavours, it can finally be acclaimed that the terrorists have won in their ongoing mission to erode ‘British values’ that supposedly protect free speech and liberty. Targetting the entire British populace, instead of strategically striking at the jihadists, is the crux of the errors being practised by the politically in-bred Tory elite who, undoubtedly, have been poorly advised by their equivalents in the intelligence services. Moreover, a report by the UN, published today, utterly condemns this approach. Let’s explore…
The proposed new surveillance laws via the Investigatory Powers Bill will give the police and security services unprecedented powers. The Bill, announced in the Queen’s speech, will include not only the previously blocked “snooper’s charter”, but also measures for the additional bulk interception of communications.
The draft bill will regulate Communication Service Providers (internet and telephony): this includes the transmission of electronic messages; telephone, internet access, or email. The bill will seek to ensure that CSPs retain and provide data regarding the identity of the sender and recipient of a message; the time of sending and the geographical location. It may also include subscribers’ names and billing address, though not the content of the message.
That these requirements may actually increase the risk of cyber-attacks (and would conflict with existing data protection and privacy laws) appears to have been lost on the Government.
Existing data protection legislation via the Data Protection Act 1998 covers identifiers such as name, address, employment history or medical records. as well as social networking content, browser history or call log. The DPA also requires organisations to inform people how their information is used and by whom. The new measures which the Government intend to introduce are at direct odds with the DPA and its European equivalent. The measures are also in conflict with common and case law and the concept of privacy.
[Update: The Investigatory Powers Act, once published, will undoubtedly encourage legal challenges by NGOs in the UK and European courts, particularly in relation to the Human Rights Act (privacy provisions – Article 8) or, if it is abolished, by its British replacement. Parallel to that and also undoubtedly there will be extra-legal opposition to the IPA, regardless as to whether the Act assumes #SurveillanceMax status]
Earlier this year the Intelligence & Security Committee said that any new bill should include a new category of data, which it called “communications data plus” and would reveal information about a person’s habits, preferences or lifestyle choices, such as websites visited.
The practicalities of enforcement is another matter: nearly all the social media and blogging companies are based outside the UK and operate mostly in accordance with US law; many CSPs are offshore and outside all legislation; encryption apps are also notoriously difficult – if not impossible – to deal with. Other tried and proven encryption facilities (Tor, VPNs, Tails, PGP, etc) will also present major challenges. Which all suggest that to some extent the proposed legislation is either window-dressing or a smokescreen to target and blacklist the real enemy: the British public and uncensored opinion.
Earlier this month the UN published a report that not only does not criticise encryption, but recommends it as a necessary tool for citizens to protect themselves. According to The Intercept, “far from banning or weakening encryption, governments should embrace and strengthen it, Kay [the report’s author] writes. He specifically urges the U.S. Congress to “prohibit the Government from requiring companies to weaken product security or insert back-door access measures.” (Note: this backdoor measure is one of several currently being explored by the UK Government.) Kay adds: “In the contemporary technological environment, intentionally compromising encryption, even for arguably legitimate purposes, weakens everyone’s security online.”
As for the extremism bill, this will include powers to “strengthen the role of Ofcom so that tough measures can be taken against channels that broadcast extremist content”. This is blatant censorship. But will the broadcast channels accept this interference? Of course, they can always block Government propaganda in retaliation for such interference. The extremism bill will also include the introduction of employment checks, enabling companies to find out whether an individual is an extremist (thin end of wedge: start with child molesters, then go on to include union activists, agitators, etc). These measures will sit alongside already announced proposals for banning orders, extremism disruption orders and closure orders against premises that are allegedly used to support extremism.
The crucial question, of course, is how do you define ‘extremism’. Many might argue, for example, that the economics and surveillance policies of the Tory Government are extremist (and, moreover, provoke hate crimes).
NGOs in the UK have meanwhile been fighting total surveillance powers via the UK and European courts. Also, earlier this year it was revealed that GCHQ feared a legal challenge under the right to privacy in the Human Rights Act if evidence of its surveillance methods became admissible in court.
See also: Inside NSA, Officials Privately Criticize “Collect It All” Surveillance, by Peter Maas.