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'Black box' is watching you! UK 'Online spy bill' privacy threat

Published time: July 02, 2012 11:26
Edited time: July 03, 2012 07:18

'Black box' is watching you! UK 'Online spy bill' privacy threat

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Internet privacy issues are again in the spotlight as a controversial bill is debated in London’s Parliament. Its adoption will allow the UK government to spy on what Brits write and post online.

While authorities say the Communications Data Bill creates a so-called ‘intelligence picture’, critics and lawmakers fear the bill will build a totalitarian online regime in the UK. If adopted, the bill will grant British intelligence full access to UK citizens’ web communications – secret services will be able to monitor who is talking to whom, when, and where in the country.

The UK Home Office says ‘communications data’ will only gather information about the sender and recipient of a piece of communication such as an email or instant message, but not the content of the communication.The architects of the legislation claim the idea is to protect the public against crimes like terrorism and child abuse.

'Black boxes' will be installed by internet services providers to filter & decode encrypted materials – including social media and email messages, something which critics say will have an impact on personal privacy.

“As written, it gives the Secretary of State far too broad a power. It allows data collection exercises that are perfectly reasonable – but would also allow pervasive black boxes that would monitor every online information flow; an idea which is clearly unacceptable,” Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP has told the Financial Times.

Internet freedom activists fear this latest infringement on personal liberties will not provide more security.

Web advocate, Aaron Swartz warned RT “either a rogue guy, ISP employees, rogue government officials or hackers [would] just break into the ISP and steal all this personal information.”

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) already grants UK law enforcement the ability to monitor ISP and website phone and email records, but the new document would ensure that all providers keep tabs on their users.

Swartz has told RT the new proposal will be “almost like opening up every letter sent through the post office so the government can make a copy – ‘just in case’.”

UK taxpayers will pick up the estimated £1.8bn cost of the new programme over the next 10 years.

The UK government is creating a massive risk for every citizen and business in the country with such a move, believes Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

“If you collect all of this information in one place and then create a sort of secret somewhat protected door for law enforcement to go and view the data and to make queries, then you set that door up to be broken into for absolutely anybody on the Internet,” he told RT. “And that means that there are going to be a lot of people from governments through to criminal gangs who would start thinking ‘this could be really, really useful to us, why don’t we have a go at it.’”

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