Draft Communications Bill seeks to modernise contact tracking
Changes to the law that governs how the police, intelligence agencies and other public bodies can access email logs are to be updated and the changes have been outlined in a Draft Communications Bill that formed part of the Queen's Speech.
The bill on one hand is being called a "snooper's charter", with the other hand highlighting the need for legislation to be updated as criminals adopt their online activities to try and remain ahead of the law.
The Draft Communications Bill is intended to allow the authorities to see who is talking to whom, over services like Skype, MSN, Jabber and other social media, both in public and in private. The content of emails, and messages would not be made available, and this is where filtering to identify traffic can be difficult, email is relatively simple to handle as POP3 and SMTP protocols are commonly used, the newer forms of social media all have their own protocols.
Technically it is entirely feasible to log the activity, given co-operation from the creators of social media apps, and an ongoing development process to re-program deep packet inspection hardware to log the traffic. The question is at what cost, and also what public bodies will have acess to the data? Safeguards are to be put in place, the four key ones being:
- A 12-month limit on how long data can be retained
- Measures to prevent unauthorised access
- Strengthening independent oversight
- Boosting the role of tribunals to consider complaints
The abuse of RIPA powers will be very much at the forefront of opposition to the Draft Communications Bill. A similar bill was attempted by the Labour Party when in power, but it failed, so let us hope that the new bill is given a suitable amount of time in Parliament to ensure it is implemented fairly and in full public view.