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UPDATE ICO Demands to See Evidence for UK ISP Internet Snooping Bill

Monday, Apr 22nd, 2013 (9:53 am) - Score 545

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which deals with data protection and freedom of information issues for the government, has reportedly ordered the Home Office to publish any advice that ministers received regarding the design, cost and risks for key parts of the controversial internet snooping bill (Communications Data Bill).

The bill, which is currently in the process of being revised after last year’s scathing criticism (here), threatens to expand the United Kingdom’s existing internet snooping laws (RIPA) by forcing ISPs into monitoring a bigger slice of everybody’s online activity.

One of the most controversial aspects has been centred around how the new “request filter” would work, which forms the backbone of the proposed system and some fear that it would only be viable if it also acted as a central database for storing the information. The idea of such a central database had previously been rejected after it proved to be deeply unpopular (due to a history of leaks, nobody trusts the government to keep such information secure).

Many also believe that the government has drastically underestimated how much the system is likely to cost, with the official estimate of £1.8bn to implement (over 10 years) receiving heavy criticism for a lack of supporting evidence. But so far the Home Office has continued to keep MP’s and ISPs in the dark, often citing “national security” concerns as a reason for staying quiet.

A Spokesman for the Home Office said (Telegraph):

This legislation is vital to help catch paedophiles, terrorists and other serious criminals. The proposed request filter will further protect privacy by discarding all data not directly relevant to an investigation.

The cross-party Joint Committee which scrutinised the Bill looked carefully at the proposals and stated that: ‘The request filter will speed up complex inquiries and will minimise collateral intrusion. There are important benefits.’

The ICO’s has now given the Home Office until 11th May 2013 to publish the relevant advice and failure to do so would mean that the department could effectively be held in “contempt of court“, although they’ll probably have an excuse for that too.

Meanwhile various privacy campaigners and leading academics / computer experts have recently written open letters to the government, which warn against adoption of the “naïve and technically dangerous” plans. The Liberal Democrats have also frequently pledged to block the bill if it isn’t significantly revised.

A Spokesman for the ISPA UK told ISPreview.co.uk:

[The Internet Services Providers’ Association] has not seen the letter in question, so cannot comment on the content. We expect the government to publish the bill imminently and when this happens, we will examine it closely alongside our members, parliamentarians and other stakeholders as part of the parliamentary scrutiny the bill will receive. ISPA gave evidence to the Joint Committee and whist we recognise the needs of law enforcement, want to see a bill that is workable and proportionate.”

In one such letter a group of ten academics warn that “The provisions to force ISPs to monitor how customers use third party services will be expensive, will hinder innovation and will undermine the privacy of citizens … without giving the police any new effective tools to monitor criminals who chat via social media.”

UPDATE 11:22am

Added a comment from the ISPA UK.

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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