Communications Data Bill (a.k.a. Snoopers Charter)

Last year details emerged of the draft Communications Data bill, described early on by a Minister as:

The proposals being considered would simply update the current rules – which allow the police in criminal investigations to find out who was contacted and when – to cover new forms of technology that didn’t even exist when the original laws were made, like Skype

This quickly transpired to be something of an understatement and thanks to the sterling efforts of Dr Julian Huppert’s Joint Committee the plan was sent away for further work. It is now expected to be in the Queens Speech on May 6th, but the details are sketchy. We thought it appropriate therefore to comment on our position and experience so far.

Whilst we acknowledge that some may regard this as a fait-accompli, and we can never know what has gone on behind closed doors, we generally disagree with the suggestions made by the Open Rights Group in their recent open letter to ISPs. On the contrary, most of the ISPs mentioned are members of LINX and our industry response through LINX and the ISPA has been robust – written and spoken submissions to the Joint Committee are publicly available.

At Simwood we wholeheartedly support the position LINX has taken on our behalf. We are opposed to this bill as citizens and consider it unworkable as professionals. In both respects we remain confused over its genuine scope and gravely concerned for its implications.

We have been party to a number of discussions in the last 12 months, notably a briefing from Dr Huppert and a presentation by the Home Office. Whilst the former was re-assuring and he’s gone on to do what he said he would, the latter was alarming.

Beyond the recurrent emotive “protect the children” meme, there was a demonstration of a lack of understanding the technical issues, commercial naivety and woeful arrogance. The latter was particularly concerning and revealing. In response to assurances that the new regime would be afforded all the protections that work presently under RIPA (the Regulatory of Investigations Powers Act), our MD made the point that the protections under RIPA do not presently work. At Simwood we have received more than a few requests under RIPA for information we do not consider should be divulged to people we do not consider should be able to see it about something utterly irrelevant to their investigation. That is first-hand personal experience of which an example was provided – fact in our reality. The response from the representative was that this wasn’t happening – fact, based on what he’d been told. His fact trumps ours despite ours being real apparently.

So we advance towards a regime which we suspect will be as well-managed as other Government IT projects, technically misses the point in many ways and actually achieves nothing to “protect the children” from those who actually wish to do them harm. If the Government’s intentions are in any way as they have portrayed and consultations with industry have had any legitimate intent to consult, we will not see this Bill in the Queens Speech. Regrettably we fear we will and that it won’t have changed much.