The controversial Communications Data Bill, better known as the “snooper's charter,” is not dead yet, today's Queen's Speech has revealed.
Although there was no specific mention of the bill in the speech, the Queen said: “In relation to the problem of matching internet protocol addresses, my government will bring forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace.”
A Home Office spokesperson confirmed to Techworld that the government is still looking closely at ways to provide law enforcement and intelligence agencies with the information they need to ensure public safety, and this “may involve legislation”.
“When communicating over the Internet, people are allocated an Internet Protocol (IP) address. However, these addresses are generally shared between a number of people,” the government said in its briefing notes.
“In order to know who has actually sent an email or made a Skype call, the police need to know who used a certain IP address at a given point in time. Without this, if a suspect used the internet to communicate instead of making a phone call, it may not be possible for the police to identify them.”
The initial draft of the Communications Data Bill, which was published in June 2012, proposed that service providers should store all details of online communications in the UK – including the time, duration, originator and recipient of a communication and the location of the device from which it was made – for 12 months.
This would include, for the first time, details of messages sent on social media, webmail, voice calls over the internet and gaming, in addition to emails and phone calls.
The police, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the intelligence agencies and HM Revenue and Customs would all have been able to access this data without the permission of a judge, as long as they were investigating a crime or protecting national security.
Last month, however, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg told his weekly LBC radio programme that the bill is “not workable nor proportionate,” and that “it certainly isn't going to happen with Liberal Democrats in government”.
He said that the coalition has a commitment to “end the storage of internet information unless there is a very good reason to do so,” adding that it does not intend to repeat the mistakes of the Labour government by “trying to constantly keep tabs on everyone”.
The Home office said that it is continuing to look at the issue closely and its approach will be “proportionate, with robust safeguards in place”.
It added that this is not about indiscriminately accessing internet data of innocent members of the public, but about ensuring that police and other law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to investigate the activities of criminals that takes place online.
Responding to the news, Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group warned that the Home Office will not give up its plans easily, adding that EU data retention laws means innocent people's Internet communications are already stored without suspicion.
Meanwhile, campaign group Big Brother Watch said that any future proposals “must be based on a full and frank discussion with industry, be technically workable and not introduce by the back door excessive or unwarranted obligations for data to be collected”.
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