'Snooper's Charter' and cyber-security get royal seal of approval in Queen's Speech

News by Doug Drinkwater

The Queen's Speech today confirms government plans to push on through with the Draft Communications Bill, otherwise known as 'Snooper's Charter', while also endeavouring to monitor online terrorist communication and keep citizens safe from cyber-attacks.

Speaking at the House of Commons today as is traditional when a new government has formed, the Queen laid out David Cameron's new plans, with technology changes revolving around tweaking data collection laws to closer monitor terrorist activity. There was even a fleeting mention of cyber-security, although the anticipated plan to scrap the Human Rights Act was reportedly dropped at the last minute.

In the speech, which is accompanied by a 100-page document, the Queen said that “new legislation will modernise the law on communications data”, a quote that many took to mean the Draft Communications Data Bill, which now comes under the Investigatory Powers Bill.

Otherwise known as the ‘Snooper's Charter', the Draft Communications Data Bill is expected to force UK-based ISPs to keep huge amounts of data on customers, and make this information available to government and security agencies as and when it's requested.

The government document today said of the purpose of the new legislation would be to “provide the police and intelligence agencies with the tools to keep you and your family safe”, whilst addressing “ongoing capability gaps that are severely degrading the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies ability to combat terrorist and other serious criminals.”

The speech also mentioned cyber-security for the first time, which could potentially mean that the £860 million Cyber Security Strategy – first introduced in 2010 and up for review – could face further changes, even if ‘cyber' is likely to remain as a tier one threat. The Cabinet Office did not return our calls on this matter.

“My government will undertake a full Strategic Defence and Security Review, and do whatever is necessary to ensure that our courageous armed forces can keep Britain safe,” said the Queen in her speech.

“My government will work to reduce the threat from nuclear weapons, cyber-attacks and terrorism.”

The speech was met with some fierce criticism shortly afterwards, with many taking aim at the government's continued attempts to make the Draft Data Communications Bill official law.

Former Green Party leader and current MP of Brighton Caroline Green tweeted: “Changing the name of the proposal to snoop on our mails and phone calls doesn't change the fact it will undermine civil liberties.” Internet body ISPA said that an “open and comprehensive debate” was needed to ensure data protection laws “properly balance security and privacy.”

Renate Samson, CEO of Big Brother Watch, said in an email to journalists: “Whilst the title may have changed from a Communications Data Bill to an Investigatory Powers Bill it will be interesting to see whether the content has radically changed.

“We have yet to see real evidence that there is a gap in the capability of law enforcement or the agencies' ability to gain access to our communications data.

“We are also yet to see any concrete evidence that access to communications data has and indeed will, make the country safer.  The only evidence we have is of numerous failures to make effective use of the data already available.

“Any new draft legislation must acknowledge that the bigger the haystacks the harder it will be to find the needles.“

Aral Balkan, founder and developer of social start-up ind.ie – which may move out of the UK over surveillance fears – told SC that he wasn't surprised by the speech.

“The Queen's speech was hardly surprising: it portended to the passing of the Snooper's Charter which Theresa May has already been tasked with, the enactment of a British Bill of Rights (while not mentioning that the government instead plans to scrap the Human Rights Act and use it in its place), and limits on freedom in the name of combatting extremism,” he said.

“The speech could not have been more Orwellian if it had actually been written by Orwell as a monologue for Big Brother himself. It portends the kind of surveillance state the UK will become in the next five years unless this government is challenged at every turn by those of us who value human rights and democracy. Even then, it may just be too little, too late.”

Balkan added that while “many will stay and fight, some of us will have no option but to leave.”

“Cameron has asked for backdoors on messaging apps and as someone working on building a social network that respects your privacy and human rights, I see no way to stay in the UK and guarantee that we will not be forced to compromise the integrity of our platform.”

Brian Honan, managing director and consultant at BH Consulting, said in an email to SC: “It's important that a proper balance is struck between enabling the security services to conduct their challenging jobs, while at the same time protecting the privacy and rights of individuals. Mass surveillance and the surrender of privacy is not the price the citizens of the UK should pay.

“Proper, effective and accountable oversight needs to be a key component of any solutions introduced.”

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