Hello, is it me you’re looking for? Sorry, Lionel Ritchie, but it’s not just you. The government is set on looking for everyone – they can see it in your eyes, they can see it in your computer. In the wake of recent terrorist events seen in Paris and the increased emergence of ISIS, Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to introduce new communication laws if he remains in office after the General Election. The Communications Data Bill, coined ‘The Snoopers Charter’ by opposition, would help the security services spy on internet communications.
Home Secretary Theresa May has called for the implementation of such a provision, describing it as vital in order to stand up to terrorism and afford the best possible protection from future atrocities. The plans have continuously been blocked by the Liberal Democrats, who are adamant that such a parliamentary provision will not be enacted whilst they remain part of the Coalition, a feature that needs to be taken into consideration given suggestions that another hung Parliament could possibly arise in May.
The Bill would require phone and internet companies to maintain records of people’s internet, email and mobile phone activity, but not the contents of calls or messages. Phew. Cameron and May won’t be hysterically laughing with a bag of popcorn watching you humorously fail to chat up ladies on Tinder. The arguments extended are that in contemporary society, such modern forms of communication cannot be exempt from the ability of security services to monitor.
Many civil liberty campaigners have argued that this is a breach of the fundamental Article 8 ECHR provision: the right to respect for family and private life. Such a right is not absolute; it is qualified, meaning that it can be derogated from if circumstances justify such an action. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg has continued to oppose such a Bill because he believes the legislative measures are disproportionate to the means of ensuring the objective. He has argued that the storing of mass data is inappropriate for the heightened majority of people, seeing as they would never engage in the prohibited activities described.
He poses the thought, “the question we need to ask ourselves, in a free, open society as we defend our values against the abhorrent attacks we saw in Paris, is where do you draw the line?” However, at the same time, one of the most basic arguments is that, if you have nothing to hide, what is there to worry about?
The prospect of the Bill has raised concerns for certain mobile messaging apps such as ‘WhatsApp’ and ‘SnapChat’, which could potentially be banned if services cannot get access to them because some of the content disappears after viewing. How else are you supposed to send the ugliest pictures to your friends without fear that it will one day come back to haunt you? Everyone deplores the dreaded ‘screenshot’ action, feeling like the epitome of betrayal when captured at your worst, but potentially this Bill would be one big screenshot over all our communications.
The sceptical views claim that such recent terrorist activities should not be used for political expedience, allowing the government to gain a tighter control over the public. Some even believe that it would divert resources away from current focused surveillance operations where several agencies are already struggling to monitor the copious amounts of information.
In spite of the contention, Cameron is very keen to carefully balance the considerations, making sure the services have what’s necessary to counter threats on the one hand, but protecting the freedoms on the other. If the Conservatives obtain a majority in May, people all over the country could be cleaning their computer data quicker than the average teenage boy clearing his search history when his mother asks to use the computer.
By Dre Efthymiou