Last Friday (31 May) a private letter to the UK’s home secretary Theresa May was leaked to the press. It contained a strongly worded advisement from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo! and Microsoft that they would not co-operate with the so-called ‘snoopers charter’.
We discussed the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP, aka ‘the snooper’s charter’) in this article. This alarming piece of legislation aimed to institute a mass surveillance system that would force all telecoms providers (including ISPs) to keep records of all emails, text messages and phone calls sent and received, and of all websites visited, for up to 12 months, for every single UK citizen and which would accessible to any government agency without judicial oversight.
Perhaps even more alarming, the bill proposed requiring overseas internet companies to store personal data of all their British users for up to 12 months, and may have included the use of ‘black boxes’ to collect this information as it passed through the British telecoms system.
Deputy Prime Minister and minority coalition partner Nick Clegg’s refusal to support the Bill came just 2 days after the home secretary received the letter (dated 18 April), which resulted in it being dropped from the upcoming Queens Speech.
The letter makes it clear that May will not get the support and voluntary collaboration from the ‘big five’ that she had hoped for, and upon much of the scheme’s workability relied:
“”We do not want there to be any doubt about the strength of our concerns in respect of the idea that the UK government would seek to impose an order on a company in respect of services which are offered by service providers outside the UK”.
“The internet is still a relatively young technology. It brings enormous benefits to citizens everywhere and is a great force for economic and social development. The UK has rightly positioned itself as a leading digital nation.
“There are risks in legislating too early in this fast-moving area that can be as significant as the risks of legislating too late.”
However, public outrage and an increased concern about terrorism following the murder of Drummer Lee Rigsby in Woolwich on 22 May, has allowed Teresa May to exploit the situation, showing new a determination revive the £1.8b ($2.8b) Bill.
This weekend she insisted that it was essential for the government to access communications data if they were to have the “tools they need” to tackle terrorism and paedophilia, and during the week issued a Home Office statement saying that “the government is continuing to look at ways of addressing this issue with communication service providers. This may involve legislation”.
We can only say that in the UK, as in so many parts of the world at the moment, scary times lie ahead…