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​Cash for data: Internet companies to profit from UK emergency legislation

Published time: July 10, 2014 16:15
Edited time: July 11, 2014 22:53
Government Communications Headquarters (Image from wikipedia.org)

Government Communications Headquarters (Image from wikipedia.org)

In an increasing climate of mass surveillance, concerns over Briton’s depreciating privacy rights have been compounded by figures released under Freedom of Information law.

Read more: UK to ‘fast track’ mass surveillance bill

The figures, published on Thursday by privacy rights campaign group Big Brother Watch, reveal the UK government has issued almost 65 million pounds in grants to multiple CSPs to log “communications data” generated over a period of six years.

The figures document state spending on grants to CSPs between 2007 and 2013. Tendered to UK authorities, Big Brother Watch’s FOI request unveils new facets of Britain’s surveillance landscape, highlighting a close relationship between the UK government and corporate sector.

UK ministers are set to pass emergency legislation on Thursday to make Communications Service Providers’ (CSP) logging of phone, textual and internet-based communication mandatory. Big Brother Watch suggests the new emergency legislation will effectively enable internet-based companies to “cash in on communications data law.”

The government’s plans to introduce the legislation follow a European Court of Justice ruling issued in April 2014. The ruling surmised that the EU’s Retention Directive – which requires CSPs to store data for up to twenty-four months – compromised EU citizens’ privacy.

The coalition has justified its decision to push through this emergency legislation. The new surveillance legislation is a response to the European Court of Justice’s recent targeting of regulations facilitating the retrospective retrieval of vital data for the pursuit of criminal investigations, it claims.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg insist the emergency legislation will serve the public interest in allowing UK intelligence and law enforcement agencies to access telecommunications data needed to investigate criminal activity.

They also suggest that certain companies are requesting more concrete legislation that will enable corporate cooperation with state bodies to intercept criminal activity.

UK privacy and civil liberties campaigners emphasize the focus of new surveillance legislation should be on transparency. As concerns over cash for snooping gather momentum, campaigners are demanding public knowledge of the data UK intelligence and security agencies collect.

Britain’s Interception of Communications Commissioner has criticized the government for its ambiguous logging of how the state utilizes communications data. In a recently published report, Sir Anthony May, suggested:

“The unreliability and inadequacy of the statistical requirements is a significant problem which requires attention."


According to government sources, this Emergency Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill will preserve UK law enforcement and intelligence agencies’ access to data that is vital for “protecting national security and preventing serious crime.”

David Cameron emphasizes the coalition’s responsibility to protect Britain’s national security and remain responsive and alert at a time when crisis continues to plague Iraq and Syria.

“As events in Iraq and Syria demonstrate, now is not the time to be scaling back on our ability to keep our people safe. The ability to access information about communications and intercept the communications of dangerous individuals is essential to fight the threat from criminals and terrorists targeting the UK.”

Commenting on the new surveillance legislation, Nick Clegg insists it will not be employed as a “snoopers charter.”

Calling for greater transparency in a culture of pervasive mass surveillance, director of Big Brother Watch, Emma Carr, stated: “It is clear that Communications Service Providers are being paid with one hand and silenced with another. If the Government wants to force Communication Service Providers to retain citizens’ data then this must go hand in hand with greater transparency.”

On the subject of internet companies’ ethical responsibility to uphold consumer rights, Carr criticizes corporations such as BT for profiting from taxpayers funds to store data, while failing to educate customers about the invasive nature of their practices.

If internet companies fail to endorse greater transparency their silence will be interpreted as a self-interested maneuver to protect their “Home Office pay check,” she cautions.

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