UK

NSA Prism Data Mining Should Warn Government Over Snooper's Charter, Say Campaigners

07/06/2013 12:58 BST | Updated 07/06/2013 14:05 BST
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The "sheer horror" in the US over the alleged data mining by the US government of private communications using internet companies like Google, Yahoo and Facebook should be a stark warning to what could happen in the UK under the so-called 'Snoopers' Charter', campaigners have warned.

The Washington Post reported that the US National Security Agency has been extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time, under the auspices of the 2001 Patriot Act.

The uproar across the ocean could not have come at a worse time for those who favour resurrecting the Data Communications Bill, which would allow the UK government to monitor internet activity, it already has the power to monitor phone calls.

The Prism scandal "shows securocrat ambition for mass surveillance knows no bounds," Rachel Robinson, Policy Officer for human rights group Liberty told HuffPost UK.

"We must resist home-grown attempts to set us on the same path. The Snoopers’ Charter would open a Pandora’s box, co-opting private companies into handing over intimate details about our lives – turning us all into suspects, not citizens."

Padraig Reidy, news editor of Index on Censorship, said the fury of US citizens about the perceived breach of privacy should be a wake up call to the government.

"The British government will really have to sit up and take note," he told HuffPost UK. "We saw in the wake of Woolwich that terrorism is always used to justify stuff like this.

"And we heard also that these powers would never have stopped something like that attack from happening.

"There has been sheer horror in the US over the last 24 hours when people realised the sheer scope of this kind of thing. It should be a wake up call to Theresa May that people don't buy the arguments in favour of this. They won't get legislation past people easily."

"What they have been doing in the US is very similar indeed to what the original Communications Bill would have achieved, from 2007 to 2008," Emma Carr, deputy director of Big Brother Watch told HuffPost UK.

"That's not exactly the situation we have with this bill being touted at present, because the information would still be held by the tech companies, not the government.

"And if information is targeted, reasonable and there's a warrant to obtain it, then it is justifiable.

"What we are worried about is indiscriminate fishing for information. The government can be abusing its power. The Patriot Act of 2001 has clauses which open to so much interpretation."

The vagaries of the Patriot Act's powers, and those of the last proposed Communications Bill was what worried campaigners.

"The last incarnation of the bill was so incredibly sweeping, giving so many powers to some many people, to Home Secretary, to law enforcement to security services to collect huge swathes of data," Reidy said.

"It's not incredibly difficult to mine data, there's an impulse to think that because it is easy, then we should do it. The US adminsitration basically say that it was difficult to get permission on individual cases, so why don't we just do it to everyone. We have to push against that idea constantly."

The US has implied the data was never taken from US citizens, and called the powers "a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States."

"It's not necessarily true," Carr said. "The Act allows the surveillance of foreign targets, but if you're a US citizen, communicating with a target, perhaps unknowingly, your communications can be locked and stored too. It's disingenuous to suggest it's not affecting US citizens at all."

"Given that this has been going on since 2007 and the US Government is still calling for more powers in this area, it is clear that there is no point where data collection is enough for some governments," said Loz Kaye, leader of the pirate party which campaigns for internet and copyright freedom.

"The UK's obsession with the Snoopers' Charter and technical measures to be handled by GCHQ shows a similar trend at home."

"These kinds of systems do not make us safer, but they do have a severe impact on our freedoms. When abused they pose a grave danger to the very democratic societies they are supposed to defend."

A Home Office spokesman told HuffPost UK: "The interception of communications, and access to communications data is governed by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA).

"The police and others can apply to get access to communications data - the time, duration of a call, the phone number or email address, not the content - under RIPA if they can demonstrate that their request is necessary and proportionate. Access is on a case by case basis, for specific information.”