Big Brother reared his ugly head recently as the government announced that they are considering including a controversial bill in next month’s Queen’s Speech. According to ministers, the bill in question would extend the powers of the UK’s security services, allowing them to monitor emails, phone calls, text messages and social media of the public ‘on demand’.

Although Internet Service Providers are obliged to keep records of users’ web access, email and internet phone calls (including sender, time, recipient and geographical locations) for 12 months thanks to an EU law introduced in 2009, they currently do not keep a record of the content of these modes of communication. The proposed new legislation would extend these requirements to social netowrking sites such as Facebook, and online phone services such as Skype as well. This would allow agencies to access information without a warrant before a case is brought to trial, as opposed to retrospectively during court cases.

Whilst many ministers have been keen to support the proposals, stressing that they are necessary in order to bring criminals, paedophiles and terrorists to justice, merely bringing existing legislation ‘up to date’ in order to reflect the current trends in communication and imposing consistent safeguards, opinion is still extremely divided and the public sceptical.
Many critics, including Tory MP David Davis have spoken out against the proposed measures, describing them as ‘unnecessary snooping’, and turning the UK into a nation of suspects. The Lib Dems were equally sceptical, as backbenchers signed a letter demanding an open, public debate upon the matter. Perhaps somewhat ironically, the two parties of the Coalition actually heavily objected to similar proposals made by the last Labour government in 2006.

Although public safety is key, critics have noted that should the bill be put into place, it would ‘see Britain adopt the same surveillance policies as China’, thus thoroughly changing the relationship between government and citizens. Essentially people would be guilty until proven innocent, rather than vice versa. There is still much debate surrounding the proposals, however the message is loud and clear: Big Brother is watching and waiting. [Cia Jackson]

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