The draft Communications Data Bill, the controversial proposed law that would enable government agencies to access people's communications records, will be even more far-reaching in its implications than first thought.
That is the conclusion of Dr Julian Richards, co-director of Buckingham University's centre for security and intelligence studies.
Dr Richards told a cross-party committee examining the Bill that the system would effectively provide authorities with a giant database of everyone's web activities that they could search, almost any time.
"By using this filter mechanism it will look and feel the same as if there was a great big database behind the scenes that you could dip into to pull the particular information you want," he said.
Investigators would be able to ask "quite complicated questions" about people's "communications behaviours and patterns", he added.
Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, said that the filtering provisions proposed in the Bill were worded so broadly and so poorly drafted that it would enable "mining of all the data collected".
The draft Communications Data Bill will enable a wide range of public sector staff – and staff working on behalf of the public sector – to interrogate the web browsing, emailing and calling habits of anyone in the country.
Police officers, tax inspectors, the security services and other officials will be able to access it. The database will offer them a number of request filters to help them build up profiles of the people they are investigating.
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said that investigators would be able to build up complex maps of people's communications by examining the records on the database of their mobile phone, landline phone, work email, Facebook and other online activities.
In the process, he said, journalistic sources would be compromised, whistleblowers deterred and the risk of personal details being hacked greatly increased. Organised crime could use weaknesses in the many different points of access into the database to track down targets.
Previous attempts to introduce similar laws – based on a 2006 European Union directive – floundered in 2009 following a public backlash.
Dr Richards previously worked within the Ministry of Defence on defence and security policy. He founded the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the privately run University of Buckingham in 2008.
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