Jimmy Wales and Sir Tim-Berners Lee slam Data Communications Bill

By Danny Palmer
06 Sep 2012 View Comments
The Wikipedia blackout page

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has attacked the government's Communications Data Bill, labelling it a state "snooper's charter", and stating that Wikipedia will encrypt all connections with the UK if the plans to track internet, email and text use become law. 

The controversial Bill would require internet service providers to store data about every online activity in the UK and store the information for 12 months.

Further reading

The Bill is a UK implementation of the European Union Data Retention Directive of 2006, which the previous Labour government attempted to pass in 2009 – and which was opposed by both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. 

The government claims the legislation is needed to fight crime and terrorism. 

Giving evidence to MPs and peers on the joint committee for the Draft Communications Data Bill, Wales criticised the £1.8bn scheme, telling them if that it is enacted, he will introduce encryption so that data about the Wikipedia pages UK users are reading cannot be tracked.

"If we find that UK ISPs are mandated to keep track of every single web page that you read at Wikipedia, I am almost certain we would immediately move to a default of encrypting all communication to the UK, so that the local ISP would only be able to see that you are speaking to Wikipedia, not what you are reading," said Wales. 

He added that to implement such a feature would not be difficult. "We don't do it today because there doesn't seem to be a dramatic need for it or any dramatic threat to our customers, but it's something that I think we would do, absolutely."

Wales added that if the government wanted to read encrypted Wikipedia data it would need to become involved with the "deep arts of hacking". 

"It doesn't sound like something a civilised democracy wants to be involved with. It's more like something I would expect from the Iranians or the Chinese, frankly," he said.

The Wikipedia founder's comments come as the inventor of the World-Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, voiced similar concerns about the Communications Data Bill.

"In Britain, like in the US, there has been a series of Bills that would give government very strong powers to, for example, collect data. I am worried about that," he told The Times newspaper.

Sir Tim also labelled the government's plans as "draconian" at the launch of his first global Web Index, a system that analyses the state of the internet in 61 countries.

It takes into account factors including the political, economic and social impact of web use, with Britain coming a surprising third in the list, behind Sweden and the US.

"If the UK introduces draconian legislation that allows the government to block websites or to snoop on people, which decreases privacy, in future indexes they may find themselves further down the list."

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