Britain’s ‘Conservative’ government is planning to force internet giants such as Google, Facebook and Whatsapp to hand over the encrypted messages of people authorities suspect to be criminals.
The new laws will require companies to hand messages from suspects under investigation to MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, in an authoritarian move that has civil liberties campaigners concerned.
The Telegraph says the Investigatory Powers Bill, announced in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech, will include a range of new powers that originally featured in the so-called “snoopers charter” that was blocked by the Liberal Democrats in the previous parliament.
Conservative Party members and supporters may see irony in the latest plans, especially given Mr Cameron’s 2010 election commitment to reduce the size and scope of government, going so far as to push a poster campaign entitled: “Big Government = Big Problems”.
Nevertheless, the newly elected, Conservative majority government is pushing ahead with these measures, in addition to the plans to further empower Britain’s television regulator in order to further control the airwaves.
Last week it was revealed that the Conservative Home Secretary had plans to change Ofcom from a regulator into a national television censor. She was held back by others in her party.
Spy chiefs see increasing encryption of online conversations as a problem, but internet companies are unwilling to breach users’ privacy in the wake of the Snowden revelations of mass surveillance.
The new bill seeks to compel companies to cooperate, and require them to store records of their users’ activity for a year.
A Home Office spokesman called the proposals a “landmark piece of legislation to cover the whole investigatory powers landscape in modern communications”.
Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group accused the government of wanting to “spy on everyone”. She told the BBC: “This is the return of the ‘snooper’s charter’, even as the ability to collect and retain data gets less and less workable.
“We should expect attacks on encryption, which protects all our security. Data collection will create vast and unnecessary expense.”
Renate Simpson of Big Brother Watch also criticised the legislation, saying: “Whilst the title may have changed from a Communications Data Bill to an Investigatory Powers Bill it will be interesting to see whether the content has radically changed.
“We have yet to see real evidence that there is a gap in the capability of law enforcement or the agencies’ ability to gain access to our communications data.”