Government “data-mining” bill opposed by Cambridge MP and Cambridge University security expert

Gwen Jing - News Reporter 22 June 2012

The government’s Communications Data Bill laid before Parliament last week is facing strong opposition by Cambridge experts. Cambridge MP Julian Huppert (pictured above) is fighting the proposed Bill on the basis that “it gives the Secretary of State far too broad a power”.

He claims that the law “allows data collection exercises that are perfectly reasonable – but would also allow pervasive black boxes that would monitor every online information flow; an idea which is clearly unacceptable. This absolutely must be changed.” The Bill proposes to require content service providers to store data on users’ communication details; these details would include the time, duration, number or email address of both sender and recipient, and the location of the source of communication.

The law would allow authorities to approach organisations and request information of IP addresses and timings of access by citizens to web pages, which can be used to narrow down criminal activity but imposes threats to citizens’ privacy.

Richard Clayton, security expert at Cambridge University, has also accused the Bill of allowing “data-mining”. He described the Bill as the “first law written from a sales brochure”. Clayton argues: “It seems to me that to set up the mechanics for a police state, then to rely on convention not to run society in that way is a poor way of proceeding”.

Further opposition is expressed by Liberty policy officer Rachel Robinson, who told a public meeting at the Houses of Parliament last Thursday: “This is blanket retention of potentially all our communications on the internet”.

Huppert will continue to oversee the controversial Bill as part of the Parliamentary committee. “Over the following months, the government will be forced to justify any new powers it wants”, he warns.

“Liberty is incredibly concerned about provision for the processing of data in the bill. This is something we didn’t know we were getting; it looks like what we’re going to have here is express provision for data-mining.”

Gwen Jing – News Reporter