May revives snoopers’ charter

by Daphne Liddle

THERESA MAY, the Home Secretary, last Monday announced the Government’s new Anti-Terrorism and Security Bill, which will give police powers to force internet firms to hand over details that could help identify suspected terrorists and paedophiles.

The Bill will compel internet service providers (ISPs) to keep records of information linking Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to individual users.

This means that information about every internet communication — who has contacted who, when and for how long — will be available to police and intelligence services.

The law, currently going through Parliament, would require ISPs to record people’s internet activity, including social media use, online browsing and online gaming and keep the information for 12 months.

May claims this will protect Britain from terrorist attacks and protect paedophiles and people who are “trolled” — sent abusive messages via social networking sights.

It is not as comprehensive as the original “snoopers’ charter” of 2013, which failed because the Liberal Democrats refused to support it.

Nevertheless there are still many civil liberties implications to the Bill and the Liberal Democrats, in the run-up to the coming general election, are likely to want to distance themselves from the new Bill. May’s announcement comes just a couple of weeks after an article in the Financial Times by Robert Hannigan, the new director of GCHQ.

He accused American tech companies of being “command and control networks of choice for terrorists and criminals” aiding and abetting murder and child abuse. This was an unusual move for a civil servant in a parliamentary democracy.

Yet, not happy with speaking on behalf of the British Government, he also claimed to speak for the British people. Most internet users, he said: “would be comfortable with a better and more sustainable relationship between the (intelligence) agencies and the tech companies”.


The tech companies, the ISPs, have always been reluctant to be seen agents of government spooks. The revelations of Edward Snowden led many internet users worldwide to drop the big ISPs and opt to use only independent ISPs or ISPs based in countries with no connections to western imperialism. And the companies lost advertising revenue as a result.

But Hannigan’s letter was a warning to the ISPs that if they don’t agree to “better arrangements” with the secret police agencies they will be smeared. This is blackmail.

The secret police agencies have sought to create relationships with US tech companies entirely outside normal legal frameworks and without the informed consent of the public or Parliament.

Edward Snowden confirmed that GCHQ had been gaining data held overseas via three legally dubious routes — illegal “backdoors”, “voluntary arrangements” and unfettered warrantless data- sharing arrangements with the NSA. In a post-Snowden world, tech companies have rightfully sought to close the “backdoors”.

They may also be concerned about secret voluntary arrangements which lack democratic legitimacy. And GCHQ’s bulk warrantless access to PRISM data held by the NSA — the other source of data gathering from overseas — is now being challenged in the Investigatory Powers Tribunal in a case brought by Liberty, Privacy International and Amnesty.

This is why May is seeking further power to compel ISPs to acquiesce to the spies’ demands.

Last July the Government forces through the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Act, just before the summer recess, claiming it had to be passed as a matter of urgency.

This included clauses purporting to give the secret police “extraterritorial powers” to enforce surveillance requests against overseas companies. This put foreign companies in an impossible position.

Complying with a British request in another jurisdiction would put them in breach of another country’s laws. And is sets a strange precedent. If Google and Facebook are required to enforce British warrants then what about those from Russia or Saudi Arabia? How would the British Government react if China demanded that British service providers enforced its warrants against British citizens?

This act has little to do with catching terrorists, last week’s inquiry into the death of Fusilier Lee Rigby showed that. It has even less to do with stopping dangerous paedophiles.

The current police investigation into a paedophile ring 30 years ago that included government ministers and high ranking secret service officers suggests that this is the last thing that some of the former MPs and spooks would want to have outed.

It is a power battle between different sections of our ruling class — the high-level agents of the state and the rival private companies they serve. Dealings between members of the filthy rich one per cent are often murky and it is an area where knowledge is power and above all profit.