Labour's 'Big, Mad Database' – something practical you can do to stop it

by Stephen Tall on April 28, 2009

Over at the Telegraph, Ian Douglas has an important post highlighting quite how sweeping, extensive and intrusive is the Labour Government’s new consultation document, Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment.

(Dontcha just love the title, by the way? Bless that nice smiley Mr Brown for recognising how threatened I feel by recent technological changes, and how grateful I will be when it’s all monitored oh-so-efficiently by his hyper-competent government.)

Ian’s article is a useful synopsis of the key issues (as is Helen Duffett’s article published on LDV earlier today). First, here’s what the Government proposes:

to make all communication network owners keep records of every message we send, phone call we make, website we visit for twelve months and allow access to those records for a range of public authorities including local councils and the Inland Revenue as well as the police.

Here’s why the Government is doing it:

People might speak on landline or mobile phones, using Voice over Internet Protocol such as Skype, communicate using email, instant messaging, message boards, chat facilities provided by online games or social networking sites. To be able to protect the general population from crime and terrorism various Government agencies need to be able to access these communications or they risk becoming ineffective.

Sound reasonable? After all, surely even we liberals must realise that cramping Bin Laden’s style is worth a bit of intrusion into individuals’ instant-messaging?

Trouble is, what’s proposed goes well beyond counter-terrorism and serious crime prevention. Here’s what Labour wants to see happen:

access [to network owners’ records] will be allowed to designated agencies when it is necessary and proportionate for a particular investigation, in the interests of national security, to prevent crime or disorder, in the interests of the economic well-being of the UK, in the interests of public safety (this list is getting rather long), to protect public health, to collect tax, to prevent death or injury in an emergency, to assist in investigations in alleged miscarriages of justice, to identify people who have died and obtain information about their next of kin.

Which covers just about every eventuality possible. Just as it was designed to do.

But surely there will be safeguards, you say; surely no government would allow such invasion of privacy without strict safeguards over who can access it?

No warrant is required, and approval by the secretary of state is only needed for retrieving the content of the communication, not what the Home Office have been calling ‘communication data,’ which is to say data about the communication such as the phone number called, the address of the website visited, the email address a message was sent to and the time and place it was made. Everything but the message itself. Whether or not the inquiry is warranted is decided by a senior officer within the investigating body, with no reference to external regulators needed on individual cases. The process as a whole would be regulated by the Interception of Communications Commissioner. At the moment that’s Sir Paul Kennedy, a former High Court Judge.

Annoyed yet? Appalled by Labour’s complete failure to understand that the state should have limits, that individuals have a right to privacy, and that we should be able to communicate with whom we wish, however we wish within the law, without fear that it will be intercepted by government agencies? Wish there were something you could do to tell Labour where to stick its snooping bill?

Our freedom is under attack once more, and this is your chance to object. Read the document, answer the questions and email Nigel Burrowes at communicationsdataconsultation@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk, or write to your MP. Do it now.

Quite.