Who should you vote for if you care about online privacy and security? Both Labour and the Conservatives call for strengthening online surveillance while the Lib Dems call for a Digital Bill of Rights.
Despite the revelations of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and the IPT (Investigatory Powers Tribunal) ruling GCHQ’s sharing of NSA data illegal, the Tories promise to ‘strengthen the ability of the police and intelligence agencies to disrupt terrorist plots’ and ‘update our counter-terrorism laws wherever necessary’.
In the event of a Conservative government being formed after the election, it’s likely that the Communications Data Bill – aka the Snoopers’ Charter – undermined by the Liberal Democrat coalition partners, will be back on the agenda.
Conservatives and Labour: More surveillance, more oversight
Similarly, Labour’s manifesto says: “We will strengthen the oversight of our intelligence agencies to make sure the public can continue to have confidence in the vital work that they do to keep us safe.”
In the Liberal Democrat manifesto, there’s talk of a Digital Bill of Rights, which on paper sounds like a Magna Carta for British Internet users. Sadly, there’s nothing much else to go on in the manifesto that could give us an idea of what this would look like.
Given the support for the Counter Terrorism and Security Act, it’s likely that UK ISPs would still be required to store some data on subscribers, should the Lib Dems get to form another Coalition.
UKIP: New spook chief to oversee GCHQ
UKIP spoke of plans to create a new Director of National Intelligence which would oversee the work of GCHQ, M15, BBC Monitoring and other intelligence services.
Aside from that, every other party has pledged to continue or improve on the current BDUK (Broadband Delivery for the UK) programme, which promises to make superfast services available to 95 per cent of the country by 2017.
UK ISP trade body ISPA (Internet Service Providers Association) has called for more clarity from all parties, arguing that while a Digital Bill of Rights is a nice idea on paper, a better idea of what that actually means is needed.
ISPA Secretary General Nicholas Lansman said: “What industry needs from the next Government is an ambitious, clear and detailed vision for the Internet and communications sector.”
Lib Dems, Greens and SNP: A Magna Carta for UK Citizens
It’s not just the Liberal Democrats who support the creation of a Bill of Rights – both the Green Party of England and Wales and the Scottish Greens have thrown their hats into the same ring.
As well as a Digital Bill of Rights, the Greens calls for RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act), which was extended by the current government, to be repealed. Similarly, the Scottish Green Party opposes mass surveillance, is pro-net neutrality and promises to increase oversight of security services.
Jim Killock, executive director of privacy advocates Open Rights Group said: “Both the Conservative and Labour have called for even more powers for the state, with the Tories explicitly calling for further communications data legislation and Labour promising to strengthen surveillance powers. This approach fails to address public concerns about privacy and intrusion by the agencies.
“The Lib Dem, SNP and Green manifestos do include positive commitments to limit bulk collection and resist the return of the Snoopers’ Charter.”
Killock added that while it’s encouraging that the SNP refuses to support a resurgent Communications Data Bill, he is concerned that there was no mention in the party’s manifesto of plans to link the NHS Central Register to the Entitlement Cards system, which has been criticised as ‘ID cards by the back door.’
“There needs to be consistency between what the SNP say they will do in Westminster and what they will do in Holyrood,” Killock said. “In particular, they need to reverse plans for a national ID register if they want to protect Scottish citizens’ privacy.’”