The Draft Communications Bill [.pdf] is one of the most controversial pieces of UK legislation proposed in recent years – not least because it represents a betrayal of election promises by the coalition to roll back state surveillance in the UK. As usual, the government is attempting to claim that current plans are "different" because the databases are distributed, not centralised; but the fact that searches will be possible across all the decentralised holdings means that there is no practical difference. This is quite simply another example of politicians promising one thing to get elected, and then doing its opposite.
However, all is not lost. Recognising perhaps that there would be a storm of protest over this move to a total surveillance state, the government has graciously permitted "pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee of both Houses". This has already led to some very lively questioning, and that same Joint Committee has also made a call for written evidence, which can be submitted until 23 August. Here's what it is looking for:
Written submissions should be provided to the Committee as a Microsoft Word document [sic] and sent by e€?mail to email@example.com Please do not submit PDFs (if you do not have access to Microsoft Word you may submit in another editable electronic form). If you do not have access to a computer you may submit a paper copy to the Clerk to the Lords Draft Communications Data Bill Joint Committee, Committee Office, House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW, fax 020 7219 4931. The deadline for written evidence is 23 August 2012.
Short, concise submissions, of no more than six pages, are preferred. A longer submission should include a one€?page summary. Paragraphs should be numbered. Submissions should be dated, with a note of the author's name, and of whether the author is acting on an individual or corporate basis. All submissions will be acknowledged promptly.
The Joint Committee has also thoughtfully provided a list of 26 rather good questions about the proposed bill. That its questions, both here and during the live sessions, are so probing is perhaps not surprising, since the page announcing this call for submissions is headed "Does the Government's Communications Data Bill snoop too much?" - a frank and welcome recognition of the key issue here.
I would therefore urge you to respond to this crucially important consultation that will shape the future of not just digital life, but everyday life in the UK: if the current bill is passed, it will lead to total surveillance of every aspect of everyone's lives in the UK – a truly chilling prospect, and one that is bound to be abused both by governments directly and indirectly others through corruption of officials (think what News International could have done with these new decentralised databases.) I will publish my own submission outlining why I think this bill is fundamentally misconceived and extremely dangerous for democracy in this country, in my next column.