Academics slam Cameron’s “naive” cyber-spying bill

Daniel Rowe - News Reporter 25 April 2013

A Cambridge academic was among nine cyber-security experts to speak out this week against government plans which would allow security services to snoop on email, internet and mobile phone data.

Ross Anderson, Professor of Security Engineering at the University’s Computer Laboratory, along with Ian Brown (Oxford Internet Institute) and Angela Sasse (Professor of Human-Centred Technology, UCL) signed a letter at the weekend warning David Cameron that proposals included in the Communications Data Bill were dangerous and must be abandoned. The bill would see the automation of systems to access information such as details of when, where and to whom phone calls were made, which websites an individual visits, and with whom that person exchanges email.

Prof. Anderson told The Cambridge Student: “The bill aims to turn Britain from a society in which the government can track anybody into one where they can track everybody”.

Expressing particular concern for minority groups and students, he added that automated, instant access to all communications data “is pretty well your stream of consciousness, and it will contain a lot of sensitive data. Examples are people accessing helplines for mental health or pregnancy; people visiting websites on sexually transmitted diseases; people using minority contact services such as Gaydar”.

“The potential for blackmail is enormous”, he concluded, “and the News International scandal showed how easy it is for private eyes, journalists and others to get access to police and phone company resources. will be a staple in divorce cases – which are a common cause of anguish to students, as people often delay divorce until their last child goes to university”.

Leading opposition to the plans is Dr Julian Huppert, Lib Dem MP for Cambridge. He slammed the proposals as early as last December in a report to parliament which labelled the bill “unhelpful and misleading”. Speaking to TCS he commented: “The Home Office has got this badly wrong. They want to collect vast amounts of information on us all and yet they haven’t even found out how the data they currently collect is used”.

“Ross Anderson has been very supportive in working to defeat this Bill and I am grateful for that. His support and that of other academics adds huge weight to the argument”, Huppert added.

Home Office officials have been modifying the bill since, but Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is still threatening to block the plans unless changes are significant. A spokesman for the Home Office told The Times on Monday that law enforcement needed “to keep pace with changing communications technologies”, and that the legislation was therefore “vital”.

Daniel Rowe – News Reporter