Civil servants: coming to an email account near you. Picture by oogiboig.
Any terrorist discussing the minutiate of their plans in text-speak is truly quaking in his boots tonight. Not only will the time-honoured tradition of deliberating on the state of the jihad in consanant-only, 140-character bursts be stamped out, oh no - all of our communication on digital or electronic devices could be perused on request by the government's very own listening agency, the GCHQ, under plans to be announced in the Queen's Speech.
The coalition government - which, lest we forget, said this about the surveillance state prior to the election - intends to launch the most ambitious ramping-up of government monitoring in British history. Far more radical than anything conceived by the Labour government (whose abortive attempt to do something vaguely similar to this ended in 2006, a dismal failure, shot down by public anger), the proposed legislation will require service providers to make available 'on demand' all records of texts, phone calls, emails, and websites visited. This does not include exact content, but does extend to time, duration, and contact details, such as numbers and email addresses.
But why, you may be wondering. Can't the authorities can already access this information, about anyone subject to a criminal investigation? Yes, they can - the exact same information that they will obtain through the proposed legislation, in fact. So why, then, do they need this legislation? Why can't they use existing law? Three reasons. Note that 'on demand' aspect - that's important. It does not include a burden of proof. It does not even mandate that the government name the alleged offence. Whereas existing legislation requires government agencies to provide details before it allows them to snoop, the new legislation does not. Under it, you don't have to be subject to a criminal investigation. The government does not even have to suspect that you are involved in crime. They may just want details. And, if they do, service providers are compelled to hand them over, no questions asked. The best part is, you'll be none the wiser, so any rights that you thought you enjoyed in regards to finding out if they accessed it and why are theoretical.
This legislation will add nothing to the government's crime-fighting repertoire. It will simply reduce the number of hoops the government has to jump through before it can access your information. To zero. And, thus, should be resisted. We as people have the right to converse in private. The government does not have the right to rifle through our communications on the whim of some bored functionary. If we are assumed innocent in the courtroom, why shouldn't we be assumed innocent when we're not even accused of a crime?