Some things never change at the Home Office

The Coalition Agreement promised to “end the storage of internet and email records without good reason”. A simple and straightforward commitment that we wholeheartedly welcomed as a major step to protecting privacy online and reversing Labour’s planned ‘Intercept Modernisation Programme.’

However, buried in the Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Government said it plans to introduce “a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications.”

Step forward the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP), which will be proposed in new legislation in the coming months, as highlighted in today’s Telegraph.

In theory, the two objectives are not contradictory – we have no problem with the security services having the capability to monitor someone they believe to pose a risk to the public. The question is that the capability is used after a suspect is identified.

Britain is already one of the most spied on countries off-line and this is a shameful attempt to watch everything we do online in the same way. The vast quantities of data that would be collected would arguably make it harder for the security services to find threats before a crime is committed, and involve a wholesale invasion of all our privacy online that is hugely disproportionate and wholly unnecessary.

The data would be a honey pot for hackers and foreign governments, not to mention at huge risk of abuse by those responsible for maintaining the databases.It would be the end of privacy online.

The Home Secretary may have changed but it seems the Home Office’s desire to spy on every citizen’s web use and phone calls remains the same as it was under Labour. At a time when the internet is empowering people across the world to embrace democracy, it is shameful for one of the world’s oldest democracies to be pursuing the kind same kind of monitoring that has a stranglehold on civil society in China and Iran.

Perhaps when Chinese state media praised Britain’s ‘new attitude’ towards the internet, this is what they meant.