Communications Bill Tabled

Communications Bill Tabled

The UK government this week unveiled its Communications Data Bill. If passed, this Bill would require Internet Service Providers and mobile phone network providers in the UK to collect and store information on all user’s internet and phone use.  The Electronic Frontier Society notes that on both sides of the Atlantic, governments are aiming to ‘shift surveillance of communications and communications records based on individualized suspicion and probably cause to the mass untargeted collection’ of ordinary citizens. This raises serious issues regarding the use of this mined information and the EFS called on UK citizens to write to MPs expressing their opposition to the Bill.

As noted on this blog some weeks ago, it is time the British public have an open and informed debate on the limits that should be placed on the government’s ability to mine this information, and on the subsequent use and storage of information so obtained.

SOCMINT – intelligence derived from social media – is increasingly coming into the purview of government, and arguments articulated by  David Omand amongst others, should be listened to. Omand, Bartlett and Miller argue in the recent Demos publication (2012) entitled #Intelligence, that democratic legitimacy ‘demands that where new methods of intelligence gathering and use are to be introduced they should be on a firm legal basis and rest of parliamentary and public understanding of what is involved’.

All this has to be done with clear public understanding and consent, and on the basis of the principles specified by Omand et al:

  • Only on the basis of sufficient, sustainable cause;
  • Where there is integrity of motive;
  • Methods used must be proportionate and necessary;
  • There must be right authority, validated by external oversight.

Without such a framework, civil liberties are at risk.

By Aletta Norval