Widening Internet Legislation Would Put Civil Liberties in Jeopardy Say Campaigners

April 4, 2012 Updated: August 6, 2012

Proposed legislation to extend the surveillance of personal internet use has come under criticism from civil liberties lobbyists. 

David Davis, a senior Conservative backbencher, said he doesn’t think the plans will improve national security, telling the BBC on Monday, April 1, that technology is already there to monitor criminal activity.

“What [the government] haven’t explained is precisely why they intend to eavesdrop on all of us without going to a magistrate or a judge for a warrant, which is what always used to happen.”

He said the security services are already able to intercept very large amounts of information and the proposals were “not focusing on terrorists or criminals, it’s absolutely everyone’s emails phone messages, texts and web access … what you’re looking at, not just where you’re going, where you’re calling from … all recorded for two years”.

The Home Office says law change is needed to safeguard security as new means of electronic communication increase and that the new watching powers would not intrude on the content of any phone call or email.

“It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public,” a Home Office spokesperson said.

But Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, said in a statement: “This is an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran. This is an absolute attack on privacy online and it is far from clear this will actually improve public safety, while adding significant costs to internet businesses.”

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister, defended the plans, telling ITV that policing authorities need to update and extend their jurisdiction over mobile phones to newer means of communication like Skype. Then they can “go after terrorists and serious criminals”. 

“It’s not about the content,” a Home Office spokesperson told the Associated Press. “It’s about the who, what, where, and when.”

The Open Rights Group (ORG) says that the project will not work for both practical and economic reasons. It says the estimated £2 billion price tag will be insufficient to do the job and this money will be drained away from the economy.

The ORG also says the priority of this government is economic growth and that the internet economy is growing. “Yet it depends on trust. Declaring a surveillance culture to be integral to the internet will keep people away from the internet and undermine our trust,” they state on their website.

“If the government seeks to break encryption, this will be even more dangerous, as banking and other information could be made vulnerable.”