Last chance to comment on draft Communications Data Bill

By Graeme Burton
22 Aug 2012 View Comments

Time is running out for people to submit comments in response to the draft Communications Data Bill, the proposed legislation that would allow the collection of data on people's phone, email and web-browsing habits for mass surveillance by the intelligence services, police and other public-sector bodies.

Further reading

Since October 2007 telecoms companies have been legally obliged to keep all records of phone calls and mobile text messages for 12 months. The Bill would extend the coverage to record  website visited, email messages sent and received and voice of IP (VoIP) data. Furthermore, public-sector organisations would have the right to access such data without court authorisation.

Comments can be submitted on the website.

The short period set aside for public consultation, which will end on Thursday 23 August, has been criticised by privacy campaigners for its brevity and for concluding during the summer holiday period.

"The proposals run counter to some of the basic principles of a liberal, democratic society – a society where there should be a presumption of innocence rather than of suspicion, and where privacy is the norm rather than the exception," wrote Dr Paul Bernal, lecturer in information technology, intellectual property and media law at the University of East Anglia Law School.

A PDF copy of the draft Bill can be downloaded from the Home Office website.

Skype, for example, could be required to record calls made and received by its users, as a result of its recent re-architecting, which centralised the routing of calls via servers in place of its original peer-to-peer design.

"The Communications Data Bill is intended to compel UK internet service providers and telcos to store 'communications data' (i.e. traffic data, usage data and subscriber data) for up to 12 months, including the time, duration, location, originator and recipient of messages sent via email, VoIP and telephone services. This will also include details of the websites visited by any user, and access to social networking services, such as Facebook and Twitter," said Patrick Clark, head of telecoms at law firm Taylor Wessing.

He added: "The content of any messages sent, received or viewed is not caught, but this obviously requires the collection and storage of a wide range of information that is not necessarily kept at the moment and from which any person with access would be able to learn an awful lot about the interests and activities of any person."

Even more ominously, the law will take the power of the much-criticised Regulatory of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) even further, said Clark. "Court orders will no longer be necessary to access specific information – all that would be required is for officers to be investigating a crime, or working in the 'interest' of protecting national security."

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