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UK Preparing To Track Citizens’ Internet Usage

A new bill before the British Parliament looks to require ISPs to records massive amounts of data about every citizen's Internet usage in order to combat criminals' use of new technologies.

Everybody, get your tin-foil hats ready. The UK is planning on increasing the surveillance of its citizens by monitoring their Internet use. A new plan from Her Majesty’s government would require all details of every Internet user’s activities to be stored for at least a full year in order to allow police and intelligence agencies to have access to it. These details will include activity on social sites, emails, VoIP calls, gaming sessions, etc.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, calls the changes necessary in order to keep up with new technology and how criminals use that technology. However, David Davis, a senior member of the Tory party, said the new measures are “incredibly intrusive” and will only “catch the innocent and incompetent.” The bill, entitled the Communications Data Bill, has been published and is before Parliament in draft form, but a huge battle over the bill is looming, with members of the Liberal Democratic Party and Conservatives such as Mr. Davis calling for the watering down or abandonment altogether of the bill. In order to win over some of the critics, restrictions are likely going to be placed on what kinds of data local authorities can access, but civil liberties groups are still branding the bill a “snooper’s charter.” They are calling for law enforcement to start targeting actual suspects, rather than every UK citizen.

Currently, UK telecommunications and ISP companies must keep phone and email records from their own services for 12 months, but the new proposals would require them to keep many more details, including websites visited. The new legislation stems from concerns among police and security services that criminals and terrorists are evading detection through the use of social media and online gaming in order to communicate with each other. Officers under the new legislation would still require a warrant to access details about the records, but the government could request any service provider to keep records on Internet usage, though initially only a dozen companies will be required to do so.

The previous regime, under the Labour Party, was forced to abandon its plans to store every citizen’s internet data on a single, massive database after widespread protests of the plan, and Theresa May says that there are no plans to resurrect that idea. The current bill will first be scrutinized by a joint committee in Parliament before efforts to pass it through Parliament and into law begins.

While police forces say the measure is absolutely needed in order to apprehend more criminals and continue to wage, in the words of Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, a “total war on crime,” Tory David Davies has pointed out that the only people this will affect are the innocent and the inept. He pointed out the flaws in the idea of storing everyone’s data, saying “you use an internet café, you hack into somebody’s [Wi-Fi], you use what’s called proxy servers, and [those] are just the easy ways.” He also said “If they really want to do things like this – and we all accept they use data to catch criminals – get a warrant. Get a judge to sign a warrant, not the guy at the next desk, not somebody else in the same organization.”

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