A phone call to a loved one. An e-mail to a prospective employer. A confidential message to a support service. Under new Government proposals, every single communication you make will be monitored and stored. Every time you phone someone, a record will be made of who, when, and where. Every time you access a website, it’ll be recorded. Your entire private life on display to the government, your friendships, your beliefs, your troubles, and your lifestyle. Everything.
Despite opposing similar plans whilst in opposition, the Coalition Government are bringing forward plans to legislate a requirement for ISPs and telecoms providers to monitor and store information on every communication you make, providing the government “real-time” access to your data without warrant. The policy also flies in the face of Tory and Lib Dem election promises, and the coalition agreement:
We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness. We will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion… We will introduce safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation… We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason… – Section 3 “Civil Liberties”, Coalition Programme for Government
Every week over 3.5 billion pieces of content are shared on Facebook. Every day, over 290 billion emails are sent. Every hour over 1.3 million tweets go out on twitter. As the 8th most connected country in the world, interactions from UK citizens will represent a great deal of that content. With so much data being generated every second, storage costs alone would be astronomical. Then imagine that ISPs will be required to keep all that spam, too. Implementing this law would require widespread reworking of network infrastructure, and investment in provision and upkeep of servers that would make Google’s server costs look like nothing.
The Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) has already hit out at the government over this. But given the Government’s inability and unwillingness to listen in the Digital Economy Act debate, one would hardly be surprised if their concerns are brushed aside yet again.
War on right to privacy
If you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to hide. Only criminals, paedophiles and terrorists should be afraid. That’s the line from Home Secretary, Theresa May, anyway. The Government’s spouting of the fallacy-filled trope is utterly wrong – turning every civilian into a suspect, with everywhere you go, and every connection you make up for government tracking, is nothing short of declaring war on privacy.
Civil Liberties groups have lined up to condemn the move, with Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group stating “The saga of complicity between senior police officers and Murdoch’s journalists should tell us how vulnerable people’s privacy can be. The government should stand by the commitments both parties made before the election to protect our privacy.”, whilst Big Brother Watch have said “It is remarkable that they wish to pry into everything we do online but seem intent on avoiding any public discussion.”
Fighting the proposals
Unfortunately the public don’t seem to like getting up in arms or taking direct action on issues devolved from what they see as “real life”, so your options here are a bit limited to liberal things like writing to your MP or signing a petition, which the Government will happily allow because it makes no impact as they ignore everything said, whilst liberals pat themselves on the back for trying. “At least we didn’t take direct action”, they’ll proudly cry, as this legislation passes.