Queen points to Communications Data Bill

“My Government intends to bring forward measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses.”

So there we have it – the Communication Capabilities Development Programme will have it’s day in Parliament. We don’t know what the draft clauses will be or when we will see them, but the Government remains intent on pursuing legislation in the coming session of Parliament.

If someone is suspected of plotting an attack the powers already exist to tap their phone, read their email and follow them on the street. Instead of scaremongering the Home Office should come forward and engage with the debate about how we improve public safety, rather than pursue a policy that will indiscriminately spy on everyone online while the real threats are driven underground and escape surveillance.

The Home Office have been very good at saying what the problem is, but seem intent on keeping the technical details of what they are proposing secret. Is it any wonder that the public are scared by a proposal for online surveillance not seen in any other Western democracy.

They also seem keen to avoid talking about the Black Boxes for real time monitoring capability that we still believe to be part of the plans.

Whether it is a draft Bill or not, if the Home Office needs to tread very, very carefully when it comes to proposing a level of online surveillance not seen in any other Western democracy. The proposals will rightly be closely scrutinised in Parliament and I hope the Conservatives fulfil their commitment to immediately give the plans to the Information Commissioner for pre-legislative scrutiny.

It’s far from clear this is technically possible, with encrypted messages, virtual private networks and onion browsers increasingly part of ordinary people’s online habits. Equally, the ‘black box’ measures risk introducing new security vulnerabilities into the UK’s critical national infrastructure. There’s also the pressing question of what the Bill will propose that isn’t already possible under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

And given that Lord Leveson is only beginning to explore how personal data was illegally obtained from private companies, I’m sure there are many MPs who will want to know how proposal isn’t going to create a huge new risk of people snooping on what politicians, celebrities or members of the public do online.

Before the election the Conservative policy on this was “immediately submitting the Home Office’s plans for the retention of – and access to – communications data to the Information Commissioner for pre-legislative scrutiny.” We don’t know if this has happened.

A draft bill will not offer the same wide-ranging consultation as an ordinary white paper, but there is still a long way to go before this becomes law, if indeed it does. Big Brother Watch will be working closely with privacy and civil society groups to ensure that proposals are scrutinised and if it is the illiberal, intrusive and indiscriminate measure we fear we will work tirelessly to ensure it does not pass into law.

You can also download our key issues briefing and our full briefing.


  1. Timf1970
    9th May 2012

    Far from a done deal, thank goodness. Long live “the freedom of speech” you can disagree with any argument. But supressing any viewpoint just hides it under the carpet:/

  2. Yorkshireflatcap
    9th May 2012

    I recently read an article about a prospective bomber emailed a person known to GCHQ of how to make a bomb… Over the next few months, GCHQ and the US Homeland authorities kept track of the communications between the prospective bomber and persons he was contacting. Suffice to say, a whole terror network was discovered from that ONE email.  There you have it – Technology already exists to track down persons who are a security threat. There are many instances of this as we seem to hear stories on the news to say that they happened to foil this/that plan, to do this/that harm. To wrap this up as some Cyber security and/or child porn is reprehensible to say the least and they carefully need to set out the laws that they currently have and use those to the fullest extent.

  3. Lol
    9th May 2012

    “Just because you don’t see it on your TV’s, it doesn’t mean the war hasn’t started already”

  4. Anonymous
    9th May 2012

    The secret services already spy on us in realtime as it is! Lookup Echelon and the UKUSA secret agreement, all this law plans to do is legitimize it so it can be given to local councils as per RIPA.

    Dog fouler’s web usage monitored in realtime by local councils anyone? That’s what the endgame will be!

  5. UK Government 2010-1984…The Queen’s Speech heralds a snooping law that the KGB would be proud of « Melon Farmers Blog
    10th May 2012

    […] See article from bigbrotherwatch.org.uk See also ‘Snooper’s charter’ removed from crime bill in last-minute coalition talks from guardian.co.uk […]