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Paul Heritage-Redpath, Product Manager

Entanet has criticised the draft Communications Bill in this blog and even argued against it to the Joint Committee in the interests of preserving the privacy of our partners’ customers. When the Home Secretary’s argument was reduced to the shrill and desperate levels of “Anybody who is against this bill is putting politics before people’s lives. We would certainly see criminals going free as a result of this”, it was clear this draft Bill was not long for this world in its current form.

Investigative journalist Duncan Campbell gave evidence to the Joint Committee in the same session as we did and sets out the history of its deliberations here:

Our argument against the draft Bill was simple

  • 1. The bill did not say what it would do, nor was there adequate consultation
  • 2. It was not clear what it would cost
  • 3. It was not technically achievable
  • 4. It did not deliver sufficient benefit

Now that the Joint Committee have reported, it is clear they agree with each of these concerns. To quote its report:

  • “The draft Bill would replace Chapter II of Part I of RIPA, and also other statutory provisions about access to communications data, with a new statutory regime making important, controversial and far-reaching changes which would potentially affect anyone who communicates by electronic means or who accesses the internet. It would particularly affect the CSPs. It was therefore unquestionably a prime candidate for wide-ranging consultation at a stage when policy was still being formulated and could be amended. This did not happen.”
  • “We criticise the Government’s estimates of the cost of the Bill and the benefits to be derived from it; some of the figures are fanciful and misleading.”
  • “Encryption is not the only technical challenge posed by the third party provision. We received evidence questioning whether DPI technology could cope with the level of traffic that moves across service provider networks.”
  • “we believe that the draft Bill pays insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy, and goes much further than it need or should for the purpose of providing necessary and justifiable official access to communications data.”

The most notable feature of this whole process has been the attempt to maintain a veil of secrecy over what the draft Bill was intended to do. The report makes clear that this determination by the Home Office prevailed to the bitter end, but was ultimately fruitless: “After some months the Government agreed to tell us on a confidential basis that there were three main data types that they hoped the legislation would be used to make available…Finally, on 24 October Home Office officials publicly identified the data types…(i) subscriber data relating to IP addresses (i.e. who is using an IP address at any given point); (ii) data identifying which services or websites are used on the internet (i.e. the web address up to the first /); (iii) data from CSPs based overseas who provide webmail and social networks to users in the United Kingdom.”

We welcome the recommendation that before further legislation is introduced there should be consultation with communication service providers – such as Entanet – of what is intended, why it is necessary and the specifics of how it will be done. We completely agree with the Joint Committee that “the Government, in imposing obligations on CSPs, should bear in mind the importance of preserving their competitiveness, and minimising damage to the reputation of the United Kingdom as an attractive base for conducting business.”

We do not agree that the proposal that we retain web logs up to the first “/” is necessary or proportionate for the detection of crime, on the basis that it can still show a pattern of behaviour of the end user, but do welcome the report’s acknowledgement that this is a controversial issue worthy of wider debate.

Have your say!
Do you agree with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Joint Committee and Entanet that these proposals need a “fundamental rethink”? Leave us your thoughts in a comment below.

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