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UK Privacy Groups Attack ISP Silence Over Internet Snooping Talks

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013 (1:32 pm) - Score 651

The Open Rights Group, Privacy International and Big Brother Watch have today attacked some of the United Kingdom’s best known ISPs for betraying their customers by engaging “in a conspiracy of silence with the Home Office” over controversial proposals to expand the country’s existing internet snooping law (Communications Data Bill).

In an Open Letter (published below), which was sent to the heads of Virgin Media, Sky Broadband, TalkTalk, BT, O2 and Zen Internet (plus Royal Mail), the privacy advocates accused ISPs of damaging the case against such proposals by taking part in “closed meetings” with the government that could allegedly result in the providers being “co-opted as an arm of the state” to spy on innocent citizens.

The Open Letter

One year ago, it became public knowledge that the Government intends to introduce legislation relating to communications data. We did not learn of this in Parliament, but in media leaks.

It has become clear that a critical component of the Communications Data Bill is that UK communication service providers will be required by law to create data they currently do not have any business purpose for, and store it for a period of 12 months.

Plainly, this crosses a line no democratic country has yet crossed – paying private companies to record what their customers are doing solely for the purposes of the state.

These proposals are not fit for purpose, which possibly explains why the Home Office is so keen to ensure they are not aired publicly.

There has been no public consultation, while on none of your websites is there any reference to these discussions. Meetings have been held behind closed doors as policy has been developed in secret, seemingly the same policy formulated several years ago despite widespread warnings from technical experts.

That your businesses appear willing to be co-opted as an arm of the state to monitor every single one of your customers is a dangerous step, exacerbated by your silence

Consumers are increasingly concerned about their privacy, both in terms of how much data is collected about them and how securely that data is kept. Many businesses have made a virtue of respecting consumer privacy and ensuring safe and secure internet access.

Sadly, your customers have not had the opportunity to comment on these proposals. Indeed, were it not for civil society groups and the media, they would have no idea such a policy was being considered.

We believe this is a critical failure not only of Government, but a betrayal of your customers’ interests. You appear to be engaged in a conspiracy of silence with the Home Office, the only concern being whether or not you will be able to recover your costs.

We urge you to withdraw your participation in a process that in our view is deeply flawed, pursuing a pre-determined solution that puts competition, security and privacy at risk in an unprecedented way.

With best wishes,

Jim Killock, Executive Director, Open Rights Group
Nick Pickles, Director, Big Brother Watch
Sam Smith, Technologist, Privacy International

The new letter follows shortly after the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) formally ordered the Home Office to publish any advice that ministers received regarding the design, cost and risks for key parts of the bill (here). A group of leading academics and computer experts have also written open letters to the government, which warn against adoption of the “naïve and technically dangerous” plans.

But the Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA UK) told ISPreview.co.uk only yesterday that it expected a revised version of the bill to be published “imminently” and pledged to “examine it closely alongside our members, parliamentarians and other stakeholders as part of the parliamentary scrutiny the bill will receive“. Sadly much of that “scrutiny” seems to be taking place in private.

It should be said that many ISPs also have concerns about the somewhat poorly estimated costs and practically of introducing such a system. Indeed it might actually be beneficial that providers are engaging in this way as they would hopefully be in the best position to express such concerns to the government.

On the other hand there’s no denying that the new proposals have received stiff opposition. Last year the Joint Committee responsible for conducting pre-legislative scrutiny even described the bill as “overkill” (here) and called for it to be “significantly amended“ or risk the prospect of having the new legislation blocked.

The Queen’s Speech on 8th May 2013 is likely to feature an amended version of the bill.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
6 Responses
  1. Timeless says:

    fat lot of good it will do to be honest, this government is determined to push its agenda through despite what critics say..

    while slightly off topic, the welfare reform was voted out of the lords and lm pretty sure the NHS reform went under some scrutiny (not that they were truthful about the plans)but both reforms were rammed through despite the outcry against, which brings me back to the main topic.. the snoopers charter is just the start of a slippery road.. it will be abused and will eventually lead to censorship of content they dont agree with, like articles against their policies..

    after all its already happening, youtube was forced to remove a video posted by the minitry of justice which provided help to those who wanted to appeal their benefit decisions, it was reposted by numerous other ppl and each request for removal was made by Chris Grayling, after all the informational videos were helping claimants win their appeals.. another example would be ATOS who is well known for getting content which criticizes their company removed from websites.

    the point lm trying to make is that censorship is already happening on a small scale, by giving them more power to spy on our usage of the internet will lead to more control on our data, and despite their rattling on about protecting the country from terrorism it will just push those who wish to commit such crimes further underground and make them more secretive.. after all we have all been told about their plans.. besides even without the help of terrorists the current government is doing a bad enough job of running a country without them.

    1. DTMark says:

      I could write one of my essays on the death of democracy by capture and where I think the UK is headed (actually, I think I probably did once) but if you join together the various dots in the Western world, such as Internet censorship, drones flying over US cities (not the UK yet), the economic actions which will, if continued like this, cause the complete collapse of the pound sterling leading to the UK joining the Euro’s possible replacement, the effective joining together of private banking and the State so there is now no tangible separation, the forthcoming ramping up of protectionism policies, the indebting of the population to create subservience (obvious example: tuition fees) the Tottenham riots which were just a hint of what’s to come and so forth it all paints a very bleak picture and I suspect the Government is, or ought to be, considering how to deal with very wide-scale civil unrest and this may well be a part of it.

    2. Timeless says:

      its a sad thought to think about, but l totally agree with you.

      that being said, lve no problem with the whole CCTV thing when l leave the house.. but lve always felt snooping on telephone convos and internet usage by default would just make me feel like lve done something wrong, like lm a criminal without even determining the need or gaining warrants they will be in my home at computer level keeping an eye on what lm doing.. yet l expect when it comes to MPs and the PMs connections they will have them completely bypassing the network.

  2. zemadeiran says:

    CCTV does not impede crime, it just records it.

    I personally respect the house of lords and their ability to hold back the madness that tries to get passed into law from the commons.

    I would suggest that you contact your local lord’s office and present your grievances against the idiots in the commons.

  3. old skool says:

    Genuinely when someone doesn’t understand then its up to other viewers that they will help, so here it takes place.

  4. I needed to thank you for this very good read!! I certainly enjoyed every
    bit of it. I have got you book-marked to look at new stuff you post…

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