When the Communications Data Bill was scrapped in 2013, one of the issues that appeared to have full political consensus was the ‘resolution of IP addresses’ – particularly where mobile phone operators may have millions of customers using just a few hundred IP addresses.
In the simplest of terms, an IP address is the address you access the internet through (although ways of masking this are nothing new nor particularly technically challenging). The Home Secretary has announced her intention to include measures to tackle this in the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill.
It is perfectly reasonable that powers to provide the police with the ability to match an IP address to the person using that service is investigated. However, if such a power is required, then it should be subject to the widespread consultation and comprehensive scrutiny that has been sorely lacking to date with industry, civil society and the wider public when it comes to introducing new surveillance powers. It is important to also recognise that the Communications Data Bill went far, far beyond being a focused attempt to solve this problem.
Before setting her sights on reviving the snoopers charter, the Home Secretary should address the fact that one of the biggest challenges facing the police is making use of the huge volume of data that is already available, including data from social media and internet companies. The snoopers charter would not have addressed this, while diverting billions from investing in skills and training for the police.
So, if proposals are to be brought forward then they must be based on a full and frank discussion with industry, be technically workable and not introduce by the back door excessive or unwarranted obligations for data to be collected. We also hope that we do not again witness the scenes in Parliament when DRIPA, the emergency data retention legislation, was pushed through Parliament in a matter of days with no parliamentary or public scrutiny of the Bill. Lets hope that the Home Office takes a far more proactive response than we have seen to date to engaging with Parliament, civil society and the public to explain their intent and to address legitimate concerns.