UK Spy – Gov’t Logging Your Web Activity Saves Lives

Stop us if you’ve heard this one already – we must forgo our privacy and allow the government to log all of our activity on the internet to prevent a terrorist attack. No, it’s not another pro-wiretapping argument being made in the United States, but it is a pro-data retention argument being heard in Britain right now.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

This debate has been going on for years – clear back to 2005 if one were to recall the “Data Retention is No Solution” campaign which fought legislation that would force ISPs to retain personal information for a period of time. Fast forward to the second half of 2008 and one might remember a plan for Britain to place the information of who people are talking to online at what time, when that conversation was – really, everything except for the content of a conversation – and store it into a central database.

Of course, these facts for an outsider may seem puzzling as to why this is being brought up now. To understand that aspect, one might need to know that the governing party – the Labour Party – supported the moves to put everyones internet activity into a central database for investigators to pour through. Then there’s the other piece of the puzzle – a feared catastrophic political crash for the Labour Party. Those fears were justified a day after the spy report where the governing party suffered the worst defeat in Britain’s political history. What isn’t completely clear is whether or not one of Britain’s spy’s feared that a new party would reverse the surveillance laws that were put in.

Still, Sir David Pepper who use to run the listening centre of GCHQ did go to the BBC to say that if Britain doesn’t record phone conversations and web activity, lives would be at stake. Apparently, it isn’t enough to have the European data retention, and Part 11 of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001 combined with the EC Directive. No, it has to be all in one database rather than at the ISPs. Already, ISPs in the UK have to store where users go on the internet and e-mails, among other things, for a period of 12 months. Pepper told the BBC this:

“There are plenty of people who will do all they can to make themselves difficult to find.

“It puts enormous pressure on you. Everybody in the agency is acutely aware that if they don’t do their job properly one of the consequences may be another terrorist outrage.

“The thing you worry about most is the attack that you haven’t seen coming.”

While the political shifts within Britain could make the privacy debate more interesting, the political shifts in the EU might also make things very interesting for privacy rights as well. One of the major things the Pirate Party stands for is privacy. Already, they have won 2 seats according to exit polls in the EU election. It’s not immediately evident what this will mean for the data retention laws, but who knows? Something could happen with France already contemplating legislation that would allow police to put key loggers and Trojan horses on peoples computers via LOPPSI 2. One thing is for sure, it’s possible that the political situation could be a game changer for privacy rights, but of course, it’s too early to tell at this point.

[Hat tip: Open Rights Group]

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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