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The Snoopers Charter: Out in the open

Draft Communications Data Bill

As expected, plans to gather more personal information than ever before collected on free British citizens were announced in the Queen’s Speech. Let the legislative battle commence!

The nonsensical idea that the concern was a central database has been scotched. The next stage is to get past the details of technical implementation, to argue the principle at stake. There’s any number of ways to look at the problem. Here’s one way: considering how people communicated before the digital revolution, to how we’ve started to communicate after.

Before

The Royal Mail was founded in 1516. For almost five centuries, it has never been seriously considered that to remain a free and safe country, the government should track every single letter, parcel and postcard that we send to each other.

By every measure of quality of life, things have improved over these 496 years, and the ability of free people to write to each other in private has been one principle by which this has happened. There’s no need to overturn that principle now.

After

The advent of the internet has radically altered how people communicate. Not just letters, not just phone calls, but every kind of human interaction and query has been digitised in some form. For the few exceptions left, somebody’s working on it. The analytical tools exist to figure out a lot about you simply from your digital footprints. For instance, in a world where homophobia persists even in otherwise advanced countries, it has been demonstrated that it is possible to reasonably accurately determine your sexuality by your connections on Facebook – even if you set such information as private, and even if you don’t put it on Facebook at all.

Now imagine all the various things you do online – shopping, researching holidays, dating, etc.

In other words, the government isn’t simply updating its technology to be able to track what it tracked before. Now, the government is in practice asking for the ability to track your dating habits, your sexual preferences, your mental health, your financial status, your travel plans, your political affiliations, your sense of humour, your dress sense, your taste in music, who your lawyer knows …

All without any evidence it would make any signficant impact on our ability to tackle crime. Safeguards don’t cut it; we shouldn’t be trying to collect this information at all.

A Stasi wet dream

The Lib Dems are firmly opposed to this, with Dr Jenny Woods having moved the amendment against such powers at the recent regional conference. I was glad to contribute to her amendment, and I look forward to continuing to work to counter this Stasi wet dream. It’s time (as it always is) to fight for a free country.