The alternatives to the draft Communications Data Bill

The internet has clearly changed the way we communicate, and of course criminals are utilising the same technology we do to communicate with one another.

Big Brother Watch has submitted supplementary evidence to the Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill highlighting the alternatives and opportunities available. The draft Bill, which would require details of our every email, website visit and social media log to be recorded, is currently under review from a specially convened joint committee of MPs and Peers.

We believe far more could be done without recording the online activity of every citizen and this post summarises our evidence to the comittee.

It is important to highlight several key points about the Bill:

  • The amount of data held by companies has increased vastly since the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act in 2000.
  • There has never been post-legislative scrutiny of RIPA
  • There was no public consultation on this Bill, which only became a draft Bill after public outcry
  • Foreign companies will not be subject to an Act of the British Parliament, yet many of the communications services we use are based overseas
  • The draft Bill does nothing to improve the existing legal mechanism for requesting data from foreign companies

So what can and should be done?

  • The Government should undertake a formal post-legislative scrutiny of RIPA, including the effectiveness of communications data
  • The Government should detail current obstacles that lead to delays in requests made through the existing MLAT system and investigate how these obstacles can be addressed. As recognised in a recent UN report on the use of the internet for terrorist purposes, this is a problem receiving international attention
  • The Home Office, in conjunction with individual police forces, should undertake a comprehensive assessment of whether police forces have sufficient specialist skills, both with regard to using communications data and data in physical devices recovered as evidence
  • The Government should resolve the uncertainty surrounding intercept evidence being used in court and ensure intercept provisions enable digital communications to be intercepted
  • The Government should also ensure that any legislation contains a redress process where service providers are able to challenge through appropriate judicial routes any provision or request made under legislation
  • The use of preservation and collection orders, targeted on known individuals or services overwhelmingly being used for criminal purposes, should be enhanced
  • The potential to improve access to data where the impact on privacy is lower than other data types, rather than a one-size-fits-all process

A critical issue facing British national security is a lack of skills to deal with presently available data and digital evidence, something the draft Communications Data Bill does not address and indeed diverts resources away from. As the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police told the Home Affairs Committee; ““Across the country policing generally spends £1.2 billion on IT. My point would be that it is more green screen than it is iPad, I am afraid, and it does not seem to catch criminals.”

There are alternatives to the draft Communications Data Bill that should be pursued and do not require blanket surveillance of the entire population. We can improve security while protecting civil liberties and privacy and we hope the Joint Committee’s conclusion is that this draft Bill is not fit for a civil, democratic society.