The announcement on Wednesday of the Draft Communications Bill demonstrates the gulf between the pro-privacy camp in Europe (and their respect for Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights) and our increasingly 'Big Brother' government.
The bill allows government agencies to access internet service providers' (ISPs) logs to see who is contacting whom and who is looking at what online.
It is ironic that while Europe is currently discussing the expansion of individuals' rights to protect their data, the UK government seems set on removing protections for our private lives – we wonder how the European Commissioner will react to these new proposals.
The proposals make it easier for the Government to access ISP logs of websites and applications visited, and when and where and for how long phonecalls were made (including those made over the internet), without the need for cumbersome authorisation.
One can see that there might be an argument for removing the burden to obtain prior authorisation to look at this information, where the national security interest is genuine and timing does not permit the following of normal process. However, this should be the exception, not the rule, and certainly not a blithe sanction of a wholescale snoop on our private lives.
Whether or not the proposals will infringe upon our EU data protection laws depends on these restrictions, and the devil will be in the detail. In order not to infringe upon our EU laws, the snooping must be fair, justified and proportionate to the objective.
Ideally, privacy-impact assessments would be undertaken before such data-sharing takes place to ensure the snooping meets these criteria, and the Information Commissioner would have the right to audit this ‘right to snoop'. The Government has promised it will strengthen independent oversight and allow a complaints tribunal.
However, the burning question on everybody's lips is in what circumstances the right itself can be exercised, and that remains to be seen. This is also currently only at the bill stage, and with the popularity of the Government on the wane, it is likely to face fierce opposition during its discussions by Parliament.
Sarah Needham is a data protection specialist at law firm Taylor Wessing