While en-masse monitoring of postal services is something that does not go in the UK, if a new proposed law enters the statute books, then internet communications will become one of the most monitored aspects of UK life. Over the weekend it was revealed that the Queen's Speech will be used to announce a new law that will allow to see who people in the UK are sending emails to, what websites they visit, contacting people via instant message apps etc.
The law will fall short of allowing them to view the content of emails and messages, that will still require a warrant. The system will require internet providers to provide GCHQ access to communications in an on-demand manner in a real time manner.
The previous Labour Government attempted a similar law back in 2006, but this was never passed, so it is interesting to see something very similar re-surface six years later. In those six years a lot has changeed, and broadband and living our lives on line is normal, rather than the exception.
"Our freedom and privacy has been protected by using the courts by saying 'If you want to intercept, if you want to look at something, fine, if it is a terrorist or a criminal go and ask a magistrate and you'll get your approval'. You shouldn't go beyond that in a decent, civilised society but that is what is being proposed.
They don't need this law to protect us. This is an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary innocent people in vast numbers. Frankly, they shouldn't have that power."Former Conservative shadow home secretary David Davis quote from Press Association.
The on-demand nature is crucial to how the proposals will be perceived, the rise and demise of Phorm means many people are a lot more informed about internet privacy. The new law is also interesting for a Government that is looking to create an economy centered around the digital world as a new survelliance law could lead to some businesses deciding the UK is not the place to do business. Why? Because while laws like this are often intended to combat terrorism and espionage, it may prove too easy for those with influence to use the system for more commercial reasons.
With the ease of access to VPN systems that can hide communications it would be surprising if most criminals or others this system is really aimed at are not already hiding their traffic. Of course GCHQ would be able to tell who is using a VPN and perhaps where the end-point is located, but this new law carries the real probability that many citizens who simple like their privacy in their own home will start to rent VPN services located abroad.
The biggest question is how will the systems be funded, if providers will have to fund this, then directly we the subscribers will have to directly pay for the priveledge to be electronically frisked. A potential side-effect is that the move may make it uneconomic for smaller providers to remain in business, as the extra costs spread across a small userbase would result in price rises such that lots of customers would leave, and if a some exception were granted to the smaller providers, it does not take a criminal mastermind to guess which providers those wanting to avoid the monitoring should us.