Tuesday, 10 April 2012

UK Government presses ahead with controversial monitoring law despite concerns

GCHQ in Cheltenham
LONDON - The UK Government is pressing ahead with a widely criticised law that would allow the British intelligence agency GCHQ to monitor all calls, internet use and email traffic within the UK without a warrant, despite fierce criticism from privacy groups, the telecoms industry and the legal sector.  

Although Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, promised the government will not "ram legislation through Parliament", a draft law will be included in the Queen's Speech next month. Simon Alford, Press Officer at the Home Office, confirmed on 5 April: "We will legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows." 

"The UK Government will need to take account of privacy when drafting this new law", said Kathryn Wynn, a Senior Associate at Pinsent Masons in London, adding that "such a law would most likely be incompatible with EU legislation". Simon Briskman, a Partner at the London firm Field Fisher Waterhouse, believes "the plans may overstep the mark. One would hope that legal review, public debate and parliamentary scrutiny would help to reach a position which will equip the security services to lawfully run monitoring in real time, while ensuring protection for the citizen as international law requires."

On 2 April, the Government announced the drafting of the new law. Although the legislation would not give GCHQ permission to access the content of emails, messages or calls without a warrant, it would enable the intelligence agency to detect which websites someone has visited, who has been in contact with who, how often and for how long. Although Briskman understands that "monitoring is a powerful tool for the intelligence community", he does think the Government needs "to balance privacy versus state security through a system of checks and measures". 

Wynn is convinced the proposals are "an attempt to strengthen access rights already available to the police and intelligence under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and the Data Retention Regulations". She explained that "internet service providers and carriers are already required to give GCHQ access to information on request. This legislation means it could be demanded in real time, rather than simply asking for historic data."

Briskman adds: "Given that RIPA has been abused, tightened up and varied at various stages in the last decade, it would be right to consider thoroughly the potential civil liberties issues."

Michiel Willems © 2012, CP Publishing Ltd. London, UK. Pictures: ZDNet/Telegraph.co.uk