Looks like we're not getting away totally scot-free from that seriously scary, almost Chinese-style internet snooping bill. It's made it through today's Queen's speech in a draft form, complete with on-demand site, email address, social media and phone-number access, so the government can see who you contacted; what you were looking at, and for how long.
After some serious questioning from MPs, the draft bill has been modified a bit since it was proposed, thankfully. For instance the cap on accessible data has been set at only 12 months, which is a far cry from the potentially indefinite amount of data that could have been roped in. Police still won't be able to see what you actually wrote in your texts and emails either, just who you contacted and for how long, without a warrant that is. The "real time" data-snooping clause is also only available on those under investigation for terrorism, hostage-taking, or kidnapping too, so unless you're plotting something really nasty, it shouldn't apply to your data.
There'll apparently also be some other "strict safeguards" to avoid abuse. These include things like "measures" to prevent unauthorised access. They should, in theory, stop Police abusing the power to snoop, but hackers have shown they can get into almost anything these days, so outside access can't be totally ruled out. Beefed-up independent oversight will be brought in too, along with stronger roles for complaint tribunals, so you'll potentially have some come back if you get snooped on without cause.
I hope that makes you feel a bit less probed and invaded; I can't say it makes me feel any more secure though. I do understand that the police often need rapid access to this kind of information especially when it comes to immediately dangerous things like terrorism and hostage taking. It's not like I have anything to hide about what sites I visit, who I email and who I call either, but it's the possibility for abuse that really gets me. I don't like the idea of anyone snooping on my online goings on without having to go through due process, even though Google pretty much knows everything I do through search, email and IM these days.
The draft bill will still have to clear through Parliament, so there's time to protest if you feel strongly enough. I can't say the ISPs are going to be all that happy about this either, as they're the ones who are going to have to store all this data on you and make it accessible on-demand. Storing logs for everything on everyone for 12 months, with instant access, sounds like a costly affair to me. [BBC, Guardian]
Image credit: Big Brother from Shutterstock