The Home Secretary Theresa May has introduced new plans that are expected to ramp up internet surveillance in the UK with the aim of enhancing national security. The measures are to be included in the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill which is to be presented in its entirety to the Commons this week. The proposals unveiled this week are hoped to enable law enforcers to identify criminals through their Internet Protocol (IP) address.
Every device in the UK has an IP address but these addresses frequently change, for instance when a device is switched off. With these new powers law enforcement agencies will be able to track each IP address and link it to the corresponding device. It is hoped that the bill will combat terrorism and child exploitation online. At the moment internet service providers do not store these IP addresses, stating that it would be costly and unnecessary to do so. This scheme will mean that providers will be required to store these addresses and must be prepared to hand over this information when called upon by the authorities.
As with any proposal that is looking to restrict the movement and privacy of information, this measure has been criticised particularly by privacy campaigners. Some are criticising the bill for not going far enough as IP addresses can be used by multiple users and can be hidden by routing signals. IT specialists have already warned the government that this tactic may prove to be ineffectual as many individuals are skilled at hiding their addresses.
However, this bill is being received far more generously than previous attempts by the government to increase internet surveillance. The Liberal Democrats have given the bill their backing along with the privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch. This is in steep contrast to the Tory sponsored Draft Communications Data Bill, also known as the Snooper’s Bill, which was first introduced in 2012. If passed this bill would have demanded that internet service providersand mobile companies keep their customers records for 12 months, this would have included data from emails, phone calls, internet browsing, text messaging and recreational internet usage.
This bill was swiftly shelved by Nick Clegg in April 2013 and it seems unlikely now it will ever reach the Commons for serious debate again. It has been reported that after blocking this bill it was Clegg who suggested the IP tactic.
To learn more about Britain’s stance on Data Protection check out our post: UK Law Inforcement Agencies Prioritise Information Security
Despite the Communications Bill failure the government has been able tighten surveillance, in the summer the government introduced an emergency bill insisting that businesses store text, phone call and e-mail information for a year. These changes come as a result of the heightened terror threat with the terror warning rising to severe (the second highest level) in the UK this August.
It would seem the government’s concerns were reaffirmed this week when three men from London and Buckinghamshire were charged with terrorism offences, since August there have been a number of ad hoc arrests similar to these across the UK.
The Power of Social Media
Governments are increasingly becoming sensitive to the power of social media as scores of Western men have travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS, after being drawn in by ISIS social media campaigns.
The government hopes with measures like these it will eventually be able to tap into these online terrorist networks, but with ISIS still occupying sizeable areas of Syria and Iraq it would seem there is a long uphill battle ahead.
But what about my privacy?
The question that we must ask ourselves is: will these measures be deployed appropriately?
Law enforcement agencies have come under fire in recent weeks after six journalists declared that they were going to sue London’s Metropolitan Police upon discovery that their activities were being tracked by the National Domestic Extremists and Disorder Intelligence Unit. The journalists were able to obtain information about themselves through a Data Protection Act request.
If the government wants to continue a policy of enhanced internet surveillance they must be careful to do so in the parameters set by precedent. If not, excessive surveillance could turn those they need on their side against them.