Know your enemy: UK ISPs bowing down to government?

The Communications Data Bill, critics argue, means the end of private correspondence in the UK. It gives police and government access to pretty much everything you do online. It's argued that the actual content of emails or social media won't be accessible, but who you're corresponding with, and what the subject line is for example, will be. The real world analogy (as opposed to the digital world) is having to go to the Post Office and register who you're sending a letter to - and what it's about.

To us at least, this seems like a sledgehammer to crack a nut - and we don't like it.

In an open letter to the major ISPs, the Open Rights Group, Big Brother Watch, and Privacy International accuse UK ISPs of entering into a conspiracy of silence on the surveillance system:

"One year ago, it became public knowledge that the Government intends to introduce legislation relating to communications data. We did not learn of this in Parliament, but in media leaks.

It has become clear that a critical component of the Communications Data Bill is that UK communication service providers will be required by law to create data they currently do not have any business purpose for, and store it for a period of 12 months.

Plainly, this crosses a line no democratic country has yet crossed – paying private companies to record what their customers are doing solely for the purposes of the state.

These proposals are not fit for purpose, which possibly explains why the Home Office is so keen to ensure they are not aired publicly.

There has been no public consultation, while on none of your websites is there any reference to these discussions. Meetings have been held behind closed doors as policy has been developed in secret, seemingly the same policy formulated several years ago despite widespread warnings from technical experts.

That your businesses appear willing to be co-opted as an arm of the state to monitor every single one of your customers is a dangerous step, exacerbated by your silence

Consumers are increasingly concerned about their privacy, both in terms of how much data is collected about them and how securely that data is kept. Many businesses have made a virtue of respecting consumer privacy and ensuring safe and secure internet access.

Sadly, your customers have not had the opportunity to comment on these proposals. Indeed, were it not for civil society groups and the media, they would have no idea such a policy was being considered.

We believe this is a critical failure not only of Government, but a betrayal of your customers' interests. You appear to be engaged in a conspiracy of silence with the Home Office, the only concern being whether or not you will be able to recover your costs.

We urge you to withdraw your participation in a process that in our view is deeply flawed, pursuing a pre-determined solution that puts competition, security and privacy at risk in an unprecedented way."

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