John Armitage on Tue, 11 Jun 2002 15:54:02 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> UK Government sweeps aside privacy rights

[And this from a government that promised us a Freedom of Information Act.
Remember that? Same old story: out of power, freedom of information act
promised; in power, freedom of information act denied. John.]
Government sweeps aside privacy rights,3604,731051,00.html

Privacy rights swept aside

Stuart Millar, technology correspondent

Tuesday June 11, 2002

The Guardian

Ministers were last night accused of conducting a systematic campaign to
undermine the right to privacy as it emerged that a host of government
departments, local councils and quangos are to be given the power to demand
the communications records of every British telephone and internet user.
A draft order to be debated by MPs next Tuesday reveals that ministers want
the list of organisations empowered to demand communications data to be
expanded to include seven Whitehall departments, every local authority in
the country, NHS bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and 11 other
public bodies ranging from the postal services commission to the food
standards agency. Until now, the list included only police forces, the
intelligence services, customs and excise and the inland revenue.

Under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, passed two years ago, each
of these authorities will be able, with out a court order, to demand that
phone companies, internet service providers and postal operators hand over
detailed information on individuals such as their name and address, phone
calls made and received, source and destination of emails, the identity of
websites visited and mobile phone location data, which is capable of
revealing the user's whereabouts at any given time and is accurate to within
a few hundred metres.

Ministers have yet to reveal which level of official from the latest list of
authorities will be able to authorise a notice demanding data under section
22 of the act. For the police, any officer of superintendent rank or above
can demand an individual's records without a court order.
The Home Office insists that the powers, which will come into force in
August if passed, are necessary to fight terrorism and crime in an age when
communications increasingly take place via email or mobile phone. But last
night civil liberties groups cited the expanded list of authorities as fresh
evidence of the need for new measures to protect the right to privacy.
Ian Brown, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, an
internet thinktank, said: "I am appalled at this huge increase in the scope
of government snooping. Two years ago, we were deeply concerned that these
powers were to be given to the police without any judicial oversight. Now
they're handing them out to a practically endless queue of bureaucrats in
Whitehall and town halls."

John Wadham, director of Liberty, said: "This list demonstrates an issue
that many people may not have realised: it is not just the police who will
be looking at our communications records, it is practically every public
servant who will be able to play this game."

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said: "The Home Office has
absolutely breached its commitment that this law would not become a general
surveillance power for the government. The exhaustive list of organisations
who will be able to access data without a court order proves that this
amounts to a systematic attack on the right to privacy."

The draft order has also raised concerns that it might undermine
investigative journalism. Editors are worried that the identities of sources
may become impossible to protect.

Bob Satchwell, director of the Society of Editors, said: "The more we widen
these powers and the further we take them away from any judicial oversight,
the propensity becomes much greater for people to misuse them to find out
where a journalist is getting material for a critical story. It would be
different if the authorities had to go to court to get this information
because editors would trust a senior judge to take into account the public
interest of investigative journalism."

The row comes amid public concern over the threat to individual privacy
posed by communications data retention. The Guardian recently revealed that
the European parliament had overturned a decade of data protection
legislation and approved measures giving member states the power to force
phone and internet companies to retain the detailed communications logs of
each of their customers for an unspecified period.

The Guardian also revealed last November that access to communications data
would not be restricted to anti-terrorist investigations, despite apparent
assurances to the contrary by David Blunkett, the home secretary.
Officials from the empowered authorities will be able to access data under
any of the broad range of grounds under which data can be obtained under the
act. These include safeguarding national security, preventing or detecting
crime, protecting public health and safety, collecting tax, and for any
other purpose specified in an order by the home secretary.

The measures have also caused consternation among internet service
providers. Steve Rawlinson, chief technical officer of Claranet, which has
about 500,000 customers in Britain, said: "We deal with a lot of requests
from the police at the moment and quite often we have to tell them we are
not satisfied that they have sufficient grounds, that they are on a fishing
expedition. At the moment, we can tell them to go and get a court order, but
when this legislation comes into force, we will have no choice but to hand
over the data."

The Home Office said: "Very broadly, all the bodies on the draft order have
powers related to preventing crime. The aim is to bring them under the
tighter regulatory framework of the RIP act."

Who can track your messages

Government departments
Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Department of Health
Home Office
Department of Trade and Industry
Department of Transport
Department for Work and Pensions
Northern Ireland executive's Department of Enterprise
Local authorities
Any local authority in England and Wales
Any fire authority
Any council in Scotland
Any district council in Northern Ireland
NHS bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland
The common services agency of the Scottish health service
The Northern Ireland central services agency for health and social services

Other bodies
Environment agency
Financial services authority
Food standards agency
Health and safety executive
Information commissioner
Office of fair trading
Postal services commission
Scottish drug enforcement agency
Scottish environment protection agency
The UK atomic energy authority constabulary
A universal service provider covered by Postal Services Act

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