Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Crims and Snoops

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The language of political debate is often hijacked to give a certain spin to what one side or the other has to say.

The latest example is the so-called 'snooper's charter' which sounds like something local busybodies might use to poke their noises into other people's business. 

Whereas the real purpose of the latest 'Terror Bill' (Investigatory Powers Bill) is to allow the authorities to intercept serious criminals and terrorists, as the internet and social media replace the older methods of communication.  

The latest revelation is that MI5 has been collecting phone data for the past decade, yet freedom as we know it has not come to an end, nor has anyone complained of a heart injustice.  

MI5 'secretly collected phone data' for decade

BBC UK Politics

Image copyright - PA

MI5 has secretly been collecting vast amounts of data about UK phone calls to search for terrorist connections, the BBC has learned.

The programme has been running for 10 years under a law described as "vague" by the government's terror watchdog.

It emerged as Home Secretary Theresa May unveiled a draft bill governing online spying by the authorities.

It would mean the internet activity of everyone in Britain had to be stored for a year by service providers.

Mrs May told MPs the proposed powers were needed to fight crime and terror and pledged new safeguards over MI5, MI6 and the police using the data.

'Nobody knew'

In her Commons statement, the home secretary referred to the 1984 Telecommunications Act, under which she said successive governments had allowed security services to access data from communications companies.

The data involved the bulk records of phone calls - not what was said but the fact that there was contact - with companies required to hand over domestic phone records.

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said the programme, which sources said was used to track terrorists and save lives, was "so secret that few even in MI5 knew about it, let alone the public".

The government's independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, told the BBC the legislation used to authorise the collection was "so vague that anything could be done under it".

He added: "It wasn't illegal in the sense that it was outside the law, it was just that the law was so broad and the information was so slight that nobody knew it was happening".
'Better balance'

Mr Anderson has called for a "comprehensive" new law governing surveillance, which the government has produced with the wide-ranging draft Investigatory Powers Bill.

Under the proposals, police and intelligence officers will be able to see the names of sites people have visited without a warrant.

There are also proposals covering how the state can hack devices and run operations to sweep up large amounts of data as it flows through the internet, enshrining in law the previously covert activities of GCHQ, as uncovered by whistleblower Edward Snowden. 

Image caption - Theresa May said there would be safeguards against online data being misused

The draft bill's measures include:
  • Giving a panel of judges the power to block spying operations authorised by the home secretary
  • A new criminal offence of "knowingly or recklessly obtaining communications data from a telecommunications operator without lawful authority", carrying a prison sentence of up to two years
  • Local councils to retain some investigatory powers, such as surveillance of benefit cheats, but they will not be able to access online data stored by internet firms
  • The Wilson doctrine - preventing surveillance of Parliamentarians' communications - to be written into law
  • Police will not be able to access journalistic sources without the authorisation of a judge
  • A legal duty on British companies to help law enforcement agencies hack devices to acquire information if it is reasonably practical to do so
  • Former Appeal Court judge Sir Stanley Burnton is appointed as the new interception of communications commissioner
Mrs May told MPs the draft bill was a "significant departure" from previous plans, dubbed the "snoopers' charter" by critics, which were blocked by the Lib Dems, and will "provide some of the strongest protections and safeguards anywhere in the democratic world and an approach that sets new standards for openness, transparency and oversight".

But Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights campaign Liberty, called it "a breathtaking attack on the internet security of every man, woman and child in our country".
Background briefings on the plans

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The proposed legislation will be consulted on before a bill is formally introduced to Parliament in the New Year, Mrs May said. It will then have to pass votes in both houses of Parliament.

It would order communications companies, such as broadband firms, to hold basic details of the services that someone has accessed online - something that has been repeatedly proposed but never enacted.

This duty would include forcing firms to hold a schedule of which websites someone visits and the apps they connect to through computers, smartphones, tablets and other devices.

Labour's shadow home secretary Andy Burnham backed the draft bill, saying it was "neither a snoopers' charter nor a plan for mass surveillance".