It starts with a statement, a now already well-known fact and idea: Communication technologies and services are changing, and boy are they changing fast. Theresa May, United Kingdom Home Secretary, has had the honor to write the foreword to the newly proposed “Communications Data Bill” that perhaps soon will affect all of Britain's online activity.
In the foreword she clearly states the purpose of the bill: “to catch criminals,” you know — criminals are using the internet, and they're damn good at it too! Or at least, apparently criminals are so good at using the internet that today police are unable to keep up. She says that ”the ability of the police and others to use this vital tool is disappearing because communication data from new technologies is less available and often harder to access.” If there is no action now, she warns us "[C]rimes enabled by email and the internet will go undetected and unpunished.” The solution is the Communications Data Bill.
So what does the bill actually stipulate?
The bill provides the U.K. government with the "power to ensure or facilitate availability of data.” It does so by forcing internet service providers to install so called “black boxes” that collect and decode encrypted material. Basically this means that the U.K. secret services would be able to monitor who is talking to whom ... when and where. Decrypting material means that the secret email you wrote to your Japanese pen-pal about how much time you actually spend looking at kittens online can be read and re-read by British authorities, if it's deemed necessary. The safeguards stipulated by the bill, such as consultation requirements and data security and integrity, in an attempt to safeguard civil liberties are questionable. Besides losing control over who actually can access personal information, decrypting information also makes the system more sensitive towards hacking or rouge government officials, which in the worst of worlds can lead to your personal information ending up in the completely wrong hands.
“If you collect all of this information in one place and then create a sort of secret somewhat protected door for law enforcement to go and view the data and to make queries, then you set that door up to be broken into for absolutely anybody on the Internet,” Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group told RT.
The question I return to and what the bill fails to provide me with an answer to, is who will be there to hold the ones who misuse our personal information, fail to respect our privacy, and intrude on our civil liberties responsible?
The bill stipulates a further infringement of online privacy, and is without doubt a step towards a more totalitarian, and perhaps down the line authoritarian, online regime. Everyone is now considered a criminal until proven otherwise.