October 16, 2008

Concern over giant UK database

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The BBC web site today reported that the Home Office of the UK is proposing development of an large communications database — greatly reducing privacy in net or mobile communications. The Communications Data Bill, due to be introduced in November in the Queen’s Speech in the UK, will create a database holding “communications information” on people’s phone calls, email, web browsing (pages visited, etc.) and other data. Allegedly, this database will not retain the content of the communications, only information about them. So while the sender, recipient, and date/time stamp of an email might be kept, the content of the email would not be.

The government is considering setting up a single database holding all the information, which would include numbers dialled and websites visited.

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According to the BBC article, “Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the police and security services needed new powers to keep up with technology.” (This sounds suprisingly like statements in the US where new government powers are justified because it’s to fight terrorism or to keep children safe.)

Another quote from the article that pretty much sums up my feelings:

These proposals are incompatible with a free country and a free people.
-Chris Huhne, Lib Dem home affairs

CyberPanda had a succinct summary:

The Home Secretary, who unveiled the new proposal today, used all the right terminology: terrorism, sex abuse, murder, drugs trafficking to justify this unprecedented step. The loaded terminology used should not detract one away from the fact that the proposal is very much a threat against the privacy and freedom of expression of net/mobile users.

Maybe something will happen during the review process to change the bill and meet privacy concerns.

Where do you balance constitutionally granted personal freedoms with a government’s claims that new powers (or monitoring techniques) are needed to combat terrorism, murder, sex abuse, etc.? When do you say enough is enough, you have used the powers you currently have. Work within that frame work.

Considering how the US tends to follow the UK in the degredation of personal freedoms (and vice versa), I wouldn’t be surprised to see something similar proposed by the current or next administration.

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