The Draft Communications Bill

In today’s Queens Speech, details for the UK governments highly controversial Communication Bill were announced. I have embedded the original PDF for the proposed draft as well as the same version in easy to read/ copy text version underneath.

The Communications Bill would, should it pass, allow the government to monitor your Facebook communications, email, Skype, mobile and any other form of private communication that you currently enjoy, without requiring a warrant.

In the draft of the proposed bill we are not actually given any technical details regarding how the government or other areas of the security industry would collect, use or share the harvested information, but safeguards were detailed, which would allay any possible fears that people may have:

  • A 12-month limit on how long data can be retained
  • Measures to prevent unauthorised access
  • Strengthening independent oversight
  • Boosting the role of tribunals to consider complaints
Another interesting section from the draft of the Communications Bill is where it outlines what communications data is defined as, specific to this bill.
  • Communications data is information about a communication, not the communication itself. Communication data is NOT the content of any communication – the text of an email, or conversation on a telephone.
  • Communications data includes the time and duration of the communication, the telephone number or email address which has been contacted and sometimes the location of the originator of the communication.
Now the first point gives the assumption that only the time, duration, contacts email address or telephone number and location of the originating communicator are logged, however you can pretty much guarantee that the government will also want to know the context of the actual communications as well. Otherwise, what’s the point right?
The drafting of this bill, and I do understand that it is only a draft, is incredibly vague, which is something that at first glance most people would be happy to live with. Only when the full technical details of the bill are made available will we see the full picture.
Another thing I would like to know, is just who’s going to foot the bill for the monitoring of all these communications, and where will it all be stored? It would be a vast undertaking to even monitor one-third of the UK’s communications let alone the entire country. If ISP’s are to start monitoring every site you look at as well as any online communications you make, then they are going to have to employ a lot more people to do that. Would this bill then sent broadband prices soaring? If people then starting to use a VPN service, would the government view those people as suspicious for circumventing government spying, because let’s not beat about the bush, that’s exactly what it is. You’d think with all the outrage of The News of the Worlds activities that our government would be a bit more careful.
Of course, there are ways that you can carry on and feel fairly safe in the knowledge that your communications, surfing habits etc were far from prying eyes, and that would be to start using a VPN. Using a VPN (one that doesn’t retain logs/ records) isn’t a scary thing to do, nor does it require a decent knowledge of computer networks and they are very cheap. Connecting to one and securely surfing is very quick and pain-free these days. Here’s a couple that I have written about before:
Don’t let this bill pass. We all have the right to privacy; it’s something that we try to maintain online and at home as much as we can, so letting this government have their way under the guise of ‘Protecting the Nation’ would be a dangerous and frankly creepy thing.

Original PDF

Full Text of The Draft as it currently stands: PDF | DOC | TXT

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Draft Communications Data Bill

(Delivered in The Queens Speech on Wednesday 9th May 2012)

“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.”


The purpose of the draft Bill is to:


  • The draft Bill would protect the public by ensuring that law enforcement agencies and others continue to have access to communications data so that they can bring offenders to justice.

 

What is communications data:

 

  • Communications data is information about a communication, not the communication itself.
  • Communication data is NOT the content of any communication – the text of an email, or conversation on a telephone.
  • Communications data includes the time and duration of the communication, the telephone number or email address which has been contacted and sometimes the location of the originator of the communication.

The main benefits of the draft Bill would be:

 

  • The ability of the police and intelligence agencies to continue to access communications data which is vital in supporting their work in protecting the public.
  • An updated framework for the collection, retention and acquisition of communications data which enables a flexible response to technological change.

The main elements of the draft Bill are:

 

  • Establishing an updated framework for the collection and retention of communications data by communication service providers (CSPs) to ensure communications data remains available to law enforcement and other authorised public authorities.
  • Establishing an updated framework to facilitate the lawful, efficient and effective obtaining of communications data by authorised public authorities including law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
  • Establishing strict safeguards including: a 12 month limit of the length of time for which communications data may be retained by CSPs and measures to protect the data from unauthorised access or disclosure. (It will continue to be the role of the Information Commissioner to keep under review the operation of the provisions relating to the security of retained communications data and their destruction at the end of the 12 month retention period)
  • Providing for appropriate independent oversight including: extending the role of the Interception of Communications Commissioner to oversee the collection of communications data by communications service providers; providing a communications. service provider with the ability to consult an independent Government/ Industry body (the Technical Advisory Board) to consider the impact of obligations placed upon them; extending the role of the independent investigatory Powers Tribunal (made up of senior judicial figures) to ensure that individuals have proper avenue of complaint and independent investigation if they think the powers have been used unlawfully.
  • Removing other statutory powers with weaker safeguards to acquire communications data.

Existing legislation in this area is:

 

  • Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000
  • The Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009

Devolution:
The Bill would apply to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and relates to non-transferred matters.

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