In today’s Times, Nick Herbert MP has written an article calling for the return of the Communications Data Bill. Although it’s not clear he has read it.
As copyright law prohibits us from reproducing the entire article, we have had to pick and choose which errors to reproduce here. Which has proved tricky, as most of the article is wrong or misleading in some way.
“Clever use of surveillance technology doesn’t recruit terrorists; it puts them in jail
To claim that letting the security agencies find out who terrorist suspects have been talking to is as evil as hacking down an unarmed soldier is a sign of missing judgment.”
Under Part 2 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, the Security Services and Police already have the power to find out who a suspected terrorist is talking to. How they do this, from covert human intelligence sources, covert surveillance, directed surveillance or intercept is up to them.
During the debate about the Communications Data Bill, one of the points we repeatedly made was that while this bill was not about reading the contents of messages, but that the details of who you communicate with were still incredibly private information.
In the aftermath of the atrocity in Woolwich, The Prime Minister was absolutely right to warn against knee-jerk reactions. Sadly, various voices have called for the legislation to be revived, despite widespread criticism from two Parliamentary committees and two polls over finding the public still opposed it’s introduction.
If, as has been reported, these individuals were already of concern to the security services then it is of course right they were subjects of surveillance activity. It is not yet clear if these individuals could have been put under closer surveillance. That is an important question to be asked.
Deputy Director Emma Carr has contributed this piece to Index on Censorship’s website.
John Reid and others’ attempt to make a political argument about “essential” legislation just hours after the brutal murder in Woolwich this week was remarkable, given how little was known at the time and the fact the victim’s family had not even been informed of his death.
Yes, it is right to examine how our security services could have been aided to prevent the horrific scenes we saw in Woolwich this week, but to jump to conclusions and use the politics of fear to promote an agenda before the any detail is available is simply wrong.
Indeed, as the facts have begun to emerge, it seems the answer may look very different to the draft Communications Data bill.
Today, the country begins the process of coming to terms with the horrific attack in Woolwich yesterday.
We know little about those who have committed this brutal terror attack. Videos and photographs have brought the chilling savagery of the perpetrators into our homes.
As the Prime Minister said:
“The terrorists will never win because they can never beat the values we hold dear, the belief in freedom, in democracy, in free speech, in our British values, western values. They are never going to defeat those.
“That is how we will stand up to these people, whoever they are, however many there are of them, and that is how we will win.”
Sadly, Lords Reid and Carlise did not restrain themselves from attacking the Government even hours after the attack. It is wholly wrong for them tobe arguing for a change of policy before the details of what has happened in Woolwich are clear and before even the family of the victim had been notified. At this time our thoughts should be with the victim’s family and not on scoring political headlines.
In a positive step forward, the Government has announced that more than 1.1 million DNA profiles belonging to innocent people have so far been destroyed to allow new laws to be brought into force. In addition, 6.3 million DNA samples containing sensitive biological material, which are no longer needed as a completed DNA profile has been obtained, have also been destroyed.
Big Brother Watch has campaigned on this issue for several years, raising concerns that the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 failed to adopt the Scottish system of retention meaning that English and Welsh citizens could find that their details are retained and shared in situations where someone from Scotland or another country would not have to worry about something that happened many years in the past.
For more than one million innocent people to have their DNA taken and stored is a stark warning of how the last Government got the balance between security and freedom badly wrong and highlights that public safety can be protected without a constant assault upon our privacy and civil liberties.
Would you be surprised to hear that a manager at the Information Commissioner’s Office, the very organisation that was set up to “uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals”, has said that consumers only like to complain about privacy if companies mess up?
At the IAB’s Mobile Engage conference, and ICO manager of business and industry, Dave Evans, said: “Consumers are not interested in privacy but they become interested if you get it wrong.” He added: “If you give them what they want but you get it wrong in the process then they [consumers] start to care where the data came from.” However, having taken a look at the ICO’s own research it seems like Evan’s isn’t even a little bit right!
A 2011 survey commissioned by the ICO showed that: almost nine out of ten respondents were concerned about the way personal information is handled, with 89% of respondents being concerned about protecting people’s personal information. This makes protecting personal information the second highest concern in terms of social issues raised in the survey, and it has been every year since 2007. There was also a high level of concern from respondents (59%) that they have lost control over the way their personal information is collected.
In a word, yes.
When news broke of the US Government’s wholesale request for data on Associated Press journalists,
The New Yorker quickly highlighted how US law allowed the Department of Justice to go straight to the phone companies, without notifying AP (although it’s own guidelines said this should not normally happen.) Because of this, there was no opportunity to test the justification for such a massive intrusion on the freedom of the press.
Yesterday’s Sunday Times carried an alarming story on its front page about the mobile phone data of 27 million EE customers being sold to IpsosMori, and in turn onto third parties including the Met Police.
The paper would clearly have not published without a sufficiently high standard of evidence and the Met police’s reaction – to suddenly announce it was abandoning the plans, despite high-level meetings in recent weeks – suggests a nerve has been touched.
The paper’s evidence is clearly damming. “Documents to promote the data reveal that it includes “gender, age, postcode, websites visited, time of day text is sent [and] location of customer when call is made”. They state that people’s mobile phone use and location can be tracked in real time with records of movements, calls and texts also available for the previous six months.”
We have already made Freedom of Information Act requests for these documents, and urge IpsosMori to publish them urgently to allay public concerns.
Everything Everywhere needs to come clean on what data it is releasing, and why it is storing this data where there is no business purpose.
Today’s Gloucester Citizen carries a remarkable story about “husband and wife councillors who watch CCTV of kids on their living room telly”.
As the paper reports, “Hardwicke Parish Council duo Fran and Lyn Welbourne have been so pro-active in monitoring the village youth shelter that they have the live footage beamed right into their home.”
It beggars belief that someone thought it appropriate to allow Councillors to have public CCTV of a youth centre piped into their living rooms.
These people are not trained employees, nor licensed CCTV operators. It smacks of taxpayer-funded voyeurism and will do nothing to actually tackle the problem that is causing concern. It would be more effective to have the councillors actually stood at the youth shelter, if they are so keen to keep an eye on what is going on.
As we have repeatedly highlighted, CCTV does little to deter or prevent crime, and at best displaces the activity a short distance.
Perhaps the Councillors should spend some of their evidently quiet evenings asking why there is a problem rather than indulging their new hobby of sofa snooping.
While the Communications Data Bill has scrapped, the one issue that remains live is the ‘resolution of IP addresses’ – particularly where mobile phone operators may have millions of customers using just a few hundred IP addresses. Deputy Director Emma Carr appeared on the Daily Politics yesterday to discuss the issue.
An IP address is (put simply) the address you access the internet through (although ways of masking this are nothing new nor particularly technically challenging). We think it reasonable that the issue is investigated so that where the police have an IP address from a service provider, they are able to trace that back to the person using the service. It may be possible to address this through small, technical changes to existing legislation, rather than a new Bill. Indeed, the draft Communications Data Bill went far, far beyond being a focused attempt to solve this problem.