The words you type into Google, the websites you visit, the text messages you send, the people you call or email and your mobile phone GPS location – all that data is being asked for by UK police forces once every two minutes.
A new report: ‘Police Access to Communications Data. How UK Police Forces requested access to communications data over 700,000 times in 3 years’, published by privacy rights group Big Brother Watch reveals how often personal metadata of citizens living in the UK is requested by police.
Between 2012 and 2014 police forces in the UK asked for details in texts, emails and phone records — known as ‘Communications Data’ — on average once every two minutes.
Through a Freedom of Information Request, Big Brother Watch discovered 733,237 applications were made by police forces to access an individual’s computer data in those two years.
That’s 244,412 each year; 20,368 every month; 4,700 every week; 670 every day; 28 every hour; or one request every two minutes.
Communications Data remains a “highly political, legal and policing issue in the UK and around the world,” according to the report published by the privacy rights group.
“Despite persistent claims that the police’s access to Communications Data is diminishing, this report shows that the police are continuing to access vast amounts of data on citizens.”
Meanwhile, Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May said that: “Communications data has played a significant role in every Security Service counterterrorism operation in the last decade.”
Germany and France have both recently ramped up their surveillance and data laws, and the UK, not to be left behind, is bringing in controversial legislation allowing British police the power to vet online conversations by suspected extremists. The UK government argues the measures will “maintain the ability of our intelligence agencies to target the online communications of terrorists, and other relevant extremism online.”
But the new Investigatory Powers Bill allowing police more powers to monitor internet and phone use isn’t proving very popular with civil liberties campaigners, who claim it will pave the way for mass surveillance of citizens in the UK.
The details of the Bill are yet to be published but it’s thought it will be likely to request Internet service providers and mobile phone operators to retain more data on what people are up to.
And recently another piece of legislation passed quietly through the courts in the UK, making the government’s spying agencies, police and intelligence officials exempt from prosecution for hacking into people’s computers and mobile phones.
According to Privacy International’s legal experts, the amended Computer Misuse Act, “grants UK law enforcement new leeway to potentially conduct cyber-attacks within the UK.
“The underhand and undemocratic manner in which the Government is seeking to make lawful GCHQ’s hacking operations is disgraceful”, said Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International.
According to the Center for Research on Globalization, an independent research and media organization based in Canada, says: “The Conservative government in Britain is preparing to enact new legislation that, under the guise of the ‘war on terror’ will vastly expand police state powers and essentially criminalize speech and other political activity.
“Presented officially as an anti-terrorism bill, the proposed measures will be targeted at any popular opposition to the government’s policies of aggressive militarism abroad and austerity measures in Britain”.
Privacy International says the new proposal is an “assault on the rights of ordinary citizens.”
Following the terror attack in Paris at the beginning of the year, the French National Assembly passed legislation sanctioning mass surveillance.
In Germany, the authorities have been granted powers to force telecoms companies to retain customers’ data for ten weeks. Telephone data, mobile phone GPS location and computer IP addresses will be held as part of any investigation into terrorism, murder, manslaughter or sexual abuse.
— Big Brother Watch (@bbw1984) June 2, 2015
Meanwhile, a new report from the United Nations has outlined the importance of encryption and anonymity in the digital age. Written by David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, the document calls on member states to protect the use of encryption and anonymity under law.
“Some States exert significant pressure against anonymity, offline and online. Yet because anonymity facilitates opinion and expression in significant ways online, States should protect it and generally not restrict the technologies that provide it.”
But as for the UK’s monitoring of citizens’ mobile phone records, emails and calls, privacy group Big Brother Watch says it remains “concerned about the excessive access and use of Communications Data” and is proposing a more transparent system — better safeguards and a clearer application process for the police to follow.