Thursday 30 August 2012 by Jonathan Rayner
Proposals in draft legislation would let the government conduct the 'mass surveillance of innocent people' under the cloak of investigating terrorist and criminal organisations, the Law Society has claimed.
The only other countries with mass surveillance systems similar in scope to those proposed by the UK government are China, Iran and Kazakhstan, the Society added. It pointed to the abuse of existing surveillance powers by local authorities, some of which have used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to investigate trivial offences, rather than the terrorist and criminal activities for which the legislation was drafted.
Claimed abuses, listed in a report published this month by Big Brother Watch, include using RIPA to test-purchase a puppy and investigate a fraudulent escort agency. Such practices should be tackled before giving even greater surveillance powers to the authorities, the Society said.
The draft Communications Data Bill proposes requiring internet service providers and telecoms firms to obtain and retain records of internet-based communications, such as emails, instant messaging and social networking. Public authorities would have access to this data when investigating terror groups or criminal gangs.
A Society spokesman said: 'The government claims its proposals are not intrusive because it is only going to collect communications data, not contents data. But if the government knows the destination of your emails, for instance, then it knows what you are doing.'
He added that the government had 'not thought through' the technical demands of its proposals. He said: 'It is easy to separate the communication data from the content data in an email because emails are standard and you can write a program to do the job. Social media are all written in different ways - there are no standardised protocols - so how can you separate the two types of data?'
Bar Council chairman Michael Todd QC said: 'It is inconceivable that the government should be contemplating granting authorities greater surveillance powers in the face of wide-ranging opposition, when the current regime is wide open to abuse.'