Gordon Brown has, either for genuine transparency in Government reasons, or, more likely, for cynical short term "Must be Seen To Be Doing Something" reasons just before the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, pre-announced a list of forthcoming Bills, which would traditionally have been first revealed in the Queen's Speech in November.
See the document with the meaningless slogan title "Preparing Britain for the Future" - Government's Draft Legislative Programme 2008/09 (.pdf)
These include Yet Another Police Bill, and a Transport Security Bill - more on those in later blog postings.
The one which caught our attention most is the Communications Data Bill which will increase the Government and Police snooping capabilities, regarding Internet usage logfiles etc. Telephones and mobile phones are already subject to the mandatory Data Retention scheme, brought into force last October, as a result of the "policy laundered" European Union Directive on Data Retention ("we have to do this because the EU told us to" - even though it was the UK Government which was on of the prime movers who helped to inflict this wasteful and intrusive policy on all 450 million European Union citizens in the first place).
Even though UK Goverment was one of the proponents of this scheme, they, along with several other EU states cried off impementing the Directive for internet email, web traffic and peer to peer filesharing etc. for 18 months after doing so for mobile and landline telephony.
Will there be strict limits and adequate safeguards regarding exactly who has access to such retained log files ?
Will there be a cheap, easy, rapid, fair and decent error correction and complaints procedure for individuals and businesses ?
Will there be criminal penalties for data abusers, generous financial compensation and prompt public apologies from senior officials and politicians when, not if, things go horribly wrong ?
Can pigs fly ?
There is a promise of "pre-legislative scrutiny"of this Bill, but, given the fiasco of the Public Consultation conducted by the Home Office on the topic of RIPA Part 1 Communications Traffic Data statutory Code of Practice, back in 2006, we are extremely wary and cynical, and fear that it will be another sham.
The Labour Government actually went ahead regardless and introduced and then rubber stamped into law, a Statutory Instrument Order which went ahead and implemented one of the Questions on which it was allegedly "consulting" the public about, right in the middle of the 12 week Consultation process, without even pretending to "listen" to the views of the public or analysing their responses.
See The Consultation Process paras 17 to 20
Details of the Bill:
11. Communications data bill
The purpose of the Bill is to: allow communications data capabilities for the prevention and detection of crime and protection of national security to keep up with changing technology through providing for the collection and retention of such data, including data not required for the business purposes of communications service providers; and to ensure strict safeguards continue to strike the proper balance between privacy and protecting the public.
The main elements of the Bill are:
- Modify the procedures for acquiring communications data and allow this data to be retained;
- Transpose EU Directive 2006/24/EC on the retention of communications data into UK law.
The main benefits of the Bill are:
- Communications data plays a key role in counter-terrorism investigations, the prevention and detection of crime and protecting the public. The Bill would bring the legislative framework on access to communications data up to date with changes taking place in the telecommunications industry and the move to using Internet Protocol (IP) core networks;
- Unless the legislation is updated to reflect these changes, the ability of authorities to carry out their counter-terror, crime prevention and
public safety duties and to counter these threats will be undermined.
The Government plans to publish this Bill in draft for pre-legislative scrutiny later this year. The draft Bill will then be made available on www.homeoffice.gov.uk. In the meantime, any comments or questions about these proposals should be directed to CommsData@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk.
The Bill would extend to the whole of the United Kingdom. The Government will work closely with the devolved administrations in relation to their responsibilities in this area.