by Stuart Agnew MEP • Legislation that will force Internet companies (ISPs) to install thousands of pieces of hardware to enable GCHQ, the Government’s eavesdropping centre, to scrutinise ‘on demand’ every phone call made, every text message and email sent and each website accessed, in real time, is in preparation. The Communications Data Bill, which confirms these proposals, was included in the Queen’s speech to open the new session of Parliament.
Predictably, there was a huge fuss made in the media when these proposals were first announced, earlier this year. The Government was accused of wanting to snoop on ordinary peoples’ communications. It used the usual excuse for Big Brother style intrusions; that it is necessary to fight terrorism and organised crime. No one mentioned that this is nothing new and had been going on for some time under the EU’s Data Retention Directive 2006/24/EC.
According to the Directive, member states have to store citizens’ telecommunications data for six to 24 months, stipulating a maximum time period. Police and security agencies are able to request from ISPs access to details such as the IP address and time of use of every email, phone call and text message sent or received. Article 5 of the Directive provides a chillingly comprehensive list (too long to list here) of the data that must be retained. In 2008-09, a total of 2.6 million data requests were made in 19 member states, so this stored data is being accessed.
Data retention has been going on under EU legislation since the late 2000s, so long in fact that the European Commission authorised a review of how the legislation has been implemented in the member states. This evaluation report was adopted in April 2011 and has since provoked a further Commission proposal on 25th January 2012, to tackle problems caused by the different ways the legislation has been interpreted by member states. It is proposing to introduce a single law to deal with the current fragmentation in interpretation and lift the administrative burden on smaller companies.
It is no coincidence that, barely two months later, the Government initiated new proposals that appear to be gold plating the EU’s requirements. Ironically, the fact that it is possible for the state to inspect the data of innocent people who are not suspected of any crime means that the legislation blatantly contravenes the privacy guarantees provided by article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights!
Once again, our basic civil liberties are being threatened and we can do nothing about it. The EU and its lickspittle agent, HMG, are well along the way to making Orwell’s nightmarish vision of Britain in his novel ‘1984’ come true. He was just a few years too early.