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Sam Smith's picture
Mass surveillance affects us all

The draft Communications Data Bill - known as the 'Snoopers' Charter' - will dramatically expand police surveillance powers if it is voted into law. Innocent citizens would have all their communications and online activity monitored, all of the time. The government would store information about who we're texting, what we're searching for on Google and who we're friends with on Facebook. Police and HM Revenue and Customs officers would be able to access this information at a moment's notice, without a judicial warrant. The only other countries in the world that currently have this kind of mass surveillance system in place are China, Iran and Kazakhstan.

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Dr Gus Hosein's picture

The Home Office has been planning a grab for new communications surveillance powers since 2006; today, the Draft Communications Data Bill established in legislative language their ambitions.

Yes, as they will point out, it isn't their the full scope of their ambitions. In 2008, under Labour, they proposed the idea of a vast centralised database of the nation's communications data. In 2009 they abandoned the idea of a central database. Since then, a new government has been elected, consisting of two political parties that opposed both the 2008 and 2009 versions.  In the Coalition Agreement, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems promised: "We will end the storage of e-mail and internet records without good reason."

But that didn't work out so well. Today the government announced an enormous expansion of the communications surveillance regime, a project that will cost approximately £1.8bn over 10 years and is almost identical to Labour's 2009 proposals.

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Steven Dumbleton's picture

In Homer’s Iliad, the gods Juno and Saturn have great desire for each other, and Saturn wishes to lie with Juno on the top of Mount Ida. Juno protests Saturn’s advances, exclaiming: “What if one of the ever-living gods should see us sleeping together, and tell the others? It would be such a scandal that when I had risen from your embraces I could never show myself inside your house again”. Luckily for Saturn, Juno knows of a place with “good strong doors” where they can meet secretly and undisturbed…

For almost three millennia, privacy and scandal have gone hand in hand. One of the most famous definitions of privacy – “the Right to be let alone” – was coined by Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis in part as a reaction to the vast expansion of street photography after Kodak released their ‘snap cameras’ in 1884. For the first time, people had the power to capture for posterity the actions of others quickly, cheaply and easily. Coupled with an increasingly sensationalist focus in newspaper reporting, the turn of the twentieth century saw high-profile individuals more vulnerable to scandals that stuck – and thus more interested in being ‘let alone’

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Nigel Waters's picture

The APEC Data Privacy Subgroup (DPS) commenced a new five year work programme at a meeting in Moscow in February 2012.  This follows the commitment by APEC Leaders in late 2011 to the Cross Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) system as one way implementing the APEC Data Privacy Framework. 

The Joint Oversight Panel was formed at the DPS meeting in Moscow and comprises members from the US (chair), Chinese Taipei  and Mexico, with the chair of the DPS (from Canada) as alternate – who will be needed if and when any of the other three economies apply for participation. 

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Emma Draper's picture

On Thursday 19th April, Privacy International - in partnership with the LSE, the Foundation for Information Policy Research, Open Rights Group and Big Brother Watch - hosted Scrambling for Safety 2012, a discussion of the Home Office's new plans for mass interception in the UK. Around 200 people turned up (despite the sporadic but torrential rain!), and the number of insightful, well-informed questions from the audience proved to us that the Home Office is not going to get this one past the British public without a fight. The event was livestreamed and videos of each panel are now available to watch. Many thanks to everyone who came and contributed.

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Dr Gus Hosein's picture

It is an increasingly common tactic of governments to say very little about a proposed policy, wait for opponents to start speaking publicly about it and then seize gleefully upon any error, accusing their opponents of peddling 'myths'. This allows officials to spend more time talking about what the policy isn't, and less time explaining what the policy actually is.

One recent example of this has been the Home Office's approach to its policy for 'modernising' communications surveillance. For instance, instead of clarifiying the details of the policy when the media revealed the government's intention to introduce new communications surveillance powers, the Deputy Prime Minister responded to questions by complaining:

There's been a lot of scaremongering, a lot of myths about in the media over the last couple of days."

The Home Secretary wrote an article for the Sun, but instead of clarifying the policy, she merely stated:

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Dr Gus Hosein's picture
What do we know?

Very little. The Communication Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP) is going to be included the Queen's Speech next month and we still haven't had public confirmation of the details. What we do know is that there have been secret briefings to MPs designed to scare them into compliance, and secret briefings to industry that were originally designed to calm their fears (but in fact have only served to increase their outrage).

What was previously proposed?

In 2009 the Home Office held a consultation on the possibility of requiring internet service providers (ISPs) and telecommunications companies (telcos), who are qualified as 'Communications Service Providers' under UK law, to install black boxes that would monitor all internet communications streams to collect and store communications data.

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Eric King's picture

For the past 18 months, I've been investigating the export of surveillance technologies from Western countries to despotic regimes, but I never thought I'd see a democratic government proposing to install the kind of mass surveillance system favoured by Al-Assad, Mubarak and Gaddafi. Yet the Home Office's latest plans would allow the authorities unprecedented levels of access to the entire population's phone records, emails, browsing history and activity on social networking sites, entirely unfettered by the courts. This is a system that has no place in a country that would call itself free and democratic.

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Eric King's picture

People often ask me why I investigate the surveillance trade - surely the police and intelligence services need these technologies to prevent serious crime and terrorism? I tell them that I completely agree - targeted surveillance, conducted within strict legal frameworks, can be a socially useful tool. However, vast swathes of the industry are in a different business altogether: mass surveillance.

Mass surveillance is when the state conducts pervasive blanket surveillance of entire populations, or significant proportions of populations, grabbing signals and packets indiscriminately. Surveillance on this scale is never proportionate and is therefore in contravention of international human rights norms - it is also unlawful in most democratic countries.

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Eric King's picture

On Friday, we wrote to 140 companies around the world that are known to be selling surveillance technology, to ask them a series of questions. We wanted to know whether or not companies conducted human rights due diligence when dealing with foreign companies or governments, how many of them were doing business or seeking to do business with 'Not Free' countries (as categorised by Freedom House's latest report), and whether any of them would be interested in meeting with us to discuss their human rights policies.

When we first compiled the ‘Big Brother Incorporated’ list in partnership with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism back in November, we’d remarked on the significant number of companies based in the United States and the United Kingdom. However, it was only when we started stacking up the envelopes to take to the post office that we realized just how disproportionately Britain was represented.

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