“Snoopers’ charter” changes put forward by Home Office

in Tech by

The Home Office has launched a consultation that proposes to make a number of amendments to their controversial internet snooping Investigatory Powers Act 2016.  The Investigatory Powers Act contains a variety of measures, such as one that forces broadband ISPs to retain basic Internet Connection Records on all of their subscribers for up to 12 months (e.g. details of all the websites / servers they’ve visited), which can then be supplied to a valid authority without a warrant. This occurs irrespective of whether you’re even suspected of a crime.

However, at the end of last year the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) threatened to deal a major blow to the IPA, by ruling that EU law does not allow “general and indiscriminate retention of traffic data and location data,” except for “targeted” use against “serious crime”.  After a long wait the Home Office has recently published a consultation in response to last year’s judgement and admitted that “some aspects of our current regime for the retention of and access to communications data do not satisfy the requirements of the CJEU.”  The consultation on the proposed changes will run until 18 January 2018.

To address the CJEU’s concerns, the government proposes:

  • that offences carrying a potential prison sentence of six months or more should be considered “serious crimes” for which communications data can be collected
  • that communications data will no longer be collected for the purpose of public health, collecting taxes or regulating financial markets
  • creating a new Office for Communications Data Authorisations (OCDA) that will authorise or decline law enforcement requests for data

The Open Rights Group and Liberty say the proposed changes do not go far enough.

Adding independent authorisation for communications data requests will make the police more effective, as corruption and abuse will be harder, said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group.

But he said the government has evaded the main point of the Watson judgment, which is that it cannot keep data on a blanket basis.

“Without narrowing what they keep to specific places, incidents or investigations, these changes will not meet the standards set by the courts,” said Killock.

“Combined with the so-called Request Filter [covered in the code of practice], which could be a power for a police search engine for retained data, this will remain an incredibly intrusive surveillance power, unparalleled in democratic countries.”

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