Reports suggest that the coalition government are likely to propose an extension of the snooping laws, which will allow them to monitor, in realtime, all emails, social network traffic and Skype calls involving UK citizens.
The debate that has inevitably followed has been centred on the ideas of civil liberties and the threat such changes in legislation will have upon our freedom. Those bracing themselves for the aftermath of change range from the average consumer to the internet service providers themselves who will initially feel the cost of such obligations, but will surely eventually pass it on to the customers. The huge growth in the use of social networking sites has acted as the prime contributor to the need for change. One government official has recently commented that:
“We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes. Communications data includes time, duration and dialing numbers of a phone call, or an email address.”
The justification in the argument lies in a belief that such legislation can be used to reduce levels of terrorism and criminal activity. Indeed in light of use of Blackberry Messenger in particular during the 2011 summer riots, this argument cannot be so easily dismissed. Meeting points and personnel were prearranged using social meda and this organisation method contributed to the police being unable to maintain full control of the streets.
Civil libertarians and various members of the public will surely see the proposal as an intrusion of privacy. As it currently stands, officials need a warrant to look at the content of any messages and can only do so after the event. If that were to change people may begin to feel their democratic freedoms are being taken away and such changes are reflective of greater police and government oppression.
Those left entrusted with the task of monitoring personal data have a great deal of responsibility. Although the public will be promised that only officials have access to their information, the reality of the matter may be different. Those left with the task of monitoring CCTV cameras have the responsibility of not abusing their “tool”. There are numerous examples whereby that has not been the case. Recently the television show CrimeWatch revealed how CCTV cameras had been used as a means of promoting perverted behavior.
Will these “officials” left with access to our personal data abuse their position? And if the changes of legislation do come to fruition, how will these officials be chosen? One thing is for sure, this Government is renowned for promising “high” and providing “low”. It is also an absolute certainty that this will go wrong. Like all of the other erosions of our civil liberties, once this genie is out of the bottle, we will not see it go back in.
It is worrying to think of the potential misuse of these cyber-snooping powers. But it may be considered a fair compromise to promote national security and that the benefits for “the greater good” outweigh the risks.