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Over the weekend details emerged about the British government’s plans to introduce new laws that would allow intelligence agents to legally intercept and monitor all sorts of digital communications, including details of the phone calls, emails, texts and website visits of every single person in the U.K.
The news may have hit on April 1, but it’s no joke. Under the proposals — which have yet to be formally published — the British intelligence agency GCHQ, the local equivalent of the NSA, would be able to access data about these communications as they wished.
It’s unsurprisingly caused a great deal of concern and outrage — particularly since the parties who currently make up the U.K’s coalition government fiercely opposed a similar bill that was put forward a few years ago when they were in opposition.
Here’s what the web is saying about the proposals.
The Sunday Times led the pack with its report suggesting that the legislative proposals could be get put forward next month, and pointing out that ISPs had been given some details last month:
A senior industry official said: “It’s mass surveillance. The idea is that the network operator should effectively intercept the communications between, say, Google and some third party. The network operators are going to be asked to put probes in the network and they are upset about the idea . . .
It’s expensive, it’s intrusive to your own customers, it’s very difficult to see it’s going to work properly and it’s going to be a nightmare to run legally.”
Internet service providers will be asked to keep records of all emails, messages on social networking sites and conversations over Skype.
The content of the calls or messages will be recorded, but the authorities will have to obtain a court order if they want to listen to or read the content.
However, the police and security services will be able to demand details of who the communication is between and what time it is taking place without a court order.
But it was ordinary users, too, who stood up to have their say. Twitter users started to flood the official channel for Prime Minister David Cameron with messages about their anger — or protesting simply by copying him in to mundane notes on everything they were doing that day.
Meanwhile another Twitter user, Ross Lawson, made the point that transparency is not two-way — particularly apposite, given recent scandals surrounding the government’s cash-for-access scheme and its relationship with those questioned over phone hacking:
— Ross Lawson (@Ross_Lawson) April 2, 2012
And some pointed out that we’ve been here before. Security blogger Rik Ferguson of Trend Micro said news of this legislative agenda had appeared several months ago — something at the time seemed like a significant invasion of privacy:
If your national or local postal service were to open and check every letter you sent in order to keep a record of whom you correspond with, would you not be outraged? What if the postal service then made all this information available to over 600 public bodies such as local councils and police forces on request?
The Home Office insist that this information is vital for fighting crime and terrorism; but is this legislation really going to be effective against the people at whom it is supposedly aimed?
The Guardian, meanwhile, makes the point about the previous attempt to legislate for this capability — saying that “Labour tried to introduce a similar system using a central database tracking all phone, text, email and internet use but that was dropped in 2009” amid concerns from civil liberties campaigners, ISPs and mobile phone operators.
The last word, however, should go to @davidcameroon, a Twitter spoof of Prime Minister David Cameron — who came up with a proposal that could prove a lot cheaper and easier than trying to pass a new law:
Government Announcement: To save time, please CC every one of your emails and texts to GCHQ. Thank you. /via @carlmaxim
— David Cameroon (@davecameroon) April 1, 2012