British government intelligence and surveillance agencies will be given new powers to monitor internet communications if the Conservative Party wins the 2015 general election, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced.
The comments come in the wake of the deadly shootings at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris. Cameron was speaking in Nottingham and suggested that technology firms must allow the government to access private communications data in order to help prevent terrorist attacks and other crimes.
“Are we going to allow a means of communication where it simply isn’t possible to do that? My answer to that question is ‘No we must not,'” he said.
“If I’m Prime Minister I will make sure it is a comprehensive piece of legislation that makes sure we do not allow terrorists safe space to communicate with each other.”
Cameron’s comments essentially point towards plans to revive the controversial data communications bill – known by critics at the ‘Snooper’s Charter’. The legislation would enable the government to access and store communications of all citizens, without any need for permission to do so.
Critics have often pointed to the fact it compromises the privacy of British citizens, but Home Secretary Theresa May has previously stated that the idea that the UK is turning into a surveillence state as “nonsense.”
Nonetheless, with the Edward Snowden revelations about unauthorised government surveillance techniques still fresh in the memory, there’s likely to be opposition to any attempt to use the Paris shootings as a fresh incentive to push through more internet surveillance powers.
And as the Open Rights Group points out, extensive surveillance powers didn’t prevent last week’s killings in Paris.
“While it may be tempting to acquiesce to government demands, we don’t protect our civil liberties by limiting them further. Mass surveillance treats us all as suspects, reverses the presumption of innocence and has a chilling effect on free speech,” she said.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Computing, David Davis MP stated that only a minority of MPs care about internet privacy – and even fewer know much about technology.
“Even the ministers in charge of this don’t have the first bloody idea of what they are doing,” he said.