Queen's speech unveils UK's 'Patriot Act' Web monitoring plan

Queen's speech unveils UK's 'Patriot Act' Web monitoring plan

Summary: The Queen has officially lifted the lid on plans for the British government to monitor all U.K. Web, email and phone traffic.


HM the Queen, in her first speech to the British Parliament in two years, announced albeit briefly the U.K. government's plan to monitor all Web activity in the country.

It puts the U.K. en par with the United States, Russia, and China in how it monitors its citizens' Web activity.

The Queen needs no persuasion in signing the bill into law as it is her sovereign obligation, but getting to the Royal Assent stage might be easier than many would hope. The government-written speech is spoken by the Queen to address the upcoming legislative agenda.

In the speech, she said:

"My government intends to bring forward measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses."

It's not often you see a government hedging, but when you do, it does it in style. Addressing two key issues --- the European "safeguard" issue, and the "subject to scrutiny" --- the speech highlights how controversial and difficult the law-making process will be in this case.

The controversial plan would see every scrap of Web traffic, every email, and Skype and landline phone calls logged with the third intelligence service, GCHQ, charged with protecting the U.K. from cyber threats.

But the bill to law transition could still be riddled with obstacles and difficulties if the Europeans get their way.

British ISPs and landline and mobile companies will be forced to open up their datacenters and allow the real-time analysis of its customers' Web activity --- including social networks like Facebook and Twitter. The data collected would include calls made, when, to whom, from which number, including when a website was visited, for how long, who an email was sent to and where it came from, and when it was sent.

All of this data will be analysed in real-time by GCHQ's Cheltenham listening station headquarters.

While the contents of the data contained in such traffic will be off-limits to the British spooks, all that is needed to access the contents is a search warrant, either issued by the courts or the Home Secretary.

In the grand scheme of things, it could be worse. Far worse. Despite only "suspected terrorists, paedophiles or serious criminals" in the government's crosshairs, with a clear message that "ordinary people" will not be targeted, the plans have stirred enough controversy for the media to prick up its ears over the proposed law.

But aren't "suspected terrorists, paedophiles or serious criminals" also "ordinary people" until they are charged and convicted with an offence? One smells a hiccup in the government's logic.

The government isn't opening every email and laughing at your Facebook statuses. Not every email anyway. But it does want to trace people's communications with others and determine who they are contacting and when. Only "why" comes into the equation when a search warrant is issued.

That said, the wider British reaction has been no more than a fraction of a level compared to the SOPA and PIPA protests in the United States this year and last. It's a shame, considering this bill will be the single-most intrusive act of British law to pass through Parliament in living memory.

But until today, there had been no official government response, notwithstanding the media response to drum-up anger across the rolling hills of the United Kingdom and the occasional off-the-cuff remark from government ministers.

Getting the bill through Parliament will be tricky -- like any other bill. The previous Labour government tried to pass a similar bill. It's likely many in opposition will support the efforts. The Conservative then-opposition slammed the plans. Now in power, their coalition-minority Liberal Democrat partners are opposing the plans, threatening to "kill" any such plan. But Labour doesn't half love a fight, and though it could be seen as a hypocritical move, it wouldn't be a surprise if Labour's whips pushed its party members to oppose the bill in its entirety.

And then comes Europe. The European Commission could veto the bill, warning that the plans "would potentially be incompatible" and conflict with existing European law.

But a veto will only be taken should there be few or no "safeguards" to protect the data and privacy rights of its citizens -- safeguards which have been promised in the Queen's speech.

In a year from now, British citizens are likely to have every shred of their Web activity monitored and recorded, with the potential of it being analysed by the government. The chances of it reaching 'law' status is "entirely possible" to "rather likely" on the legislative colour wall chart.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons, CC.


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  • in some ways

    This is really great for privacy because it spurs development of technology and software that secures transmissions.

    The more the government tries to listen in, block traffic, the more individuals work to create ways to overcome their efforts. https over tor is already pretty decent. Curious to see what people come up with next.
  • Have no doubts, everybody will be snooping this.

    From Revenue and Customs to the local health boards, everybody will be dipping into this database before long. They will all have "valid" reasons for doing so and not needing a warrant to access just a specific file; carrying out massive fishing expeditions will become the norm. I never expected the UK to be a bastion of civil rights, but I really wonder what the common voters are thinking when they allow the government to do such things.
    terry flores
  • Excuse me but...

    [b]It puts the U.K. en par with the United States, Russia, and China in how it monitors its citizens??? Web activity.[/b]

    [i]The controversial plan would see every scrap of Web traffic, every email, and Skype and landline phone calls logged with the third intelligence service, GCHQ, charged with protecting the U.K. from cyber threats.[/i]

    Since when does any agency in the US see [b]every scrap of Web traffic, every email, and ...[/b]?
    • Dumb

      Not even a draft has been made yet. Of course not "every scrap" is monitored but the key point is that any "scrap" CAN be monitored. In the US phone, SMS, web, email, even searches and detention can be carried out without any warrant. From your level of knowledge you must hail from "the land of the free".
    • @raleighthings: Does "Echelon" ring a bell? (NT)

      • Echelon

        Sure. But it in no way was able to track everything. And that was what 10 or 15 years ago. And it did require some level of authorization to be used and as I recall (and may be wrong) it had to be targeted.

        And (@Dumb) with IP traffic you have to watch everything going by to be able to pick out targeted information. I don't like it but that's the way it is with packet based traffic.

        And yes I don't like that some things can be done without warrants. And will fight to limit such things. But I'm in no way ignorant of the issue. But the comment of lumping the US with Russia and China on this issue sounds like the liberal mantra of some in the 60s and 70s about how much better Russia and China were than the US. Things are not the same and no where near close to being the same.
    • US spying on citizens

      It's been going on for about a decade. The NSA is building a huge new server center in Utah for about $2b. (take yer google for a walk)
      In one of those too good to be true coincidences, one of the companies bidding on the contract was Turner Construction, the American subsidiary of the German company that built Hitler's Bunker.
  • Horrible

    This bill is basically law enforcement laziness. When you can track everyone, there are bound to be abuses. You become guilty until proven innocent essentially. And the US has nothing like this, I assure you.
    Jeff Kibuule
    • Actually, they do.

      To this point, the NSA internet monitoring program is hidden in secrecy and only used for intelligence gathering. In other words, none of their material ever shows up in a criminal court trial under rules of evidence.

      That's about to change, as bills brought by Lamar Smith and others make it mandatory for ISPs and internet hosters to retain access records for just about everything. These records then become searchable by law enforcement for whatever purposes they desire. Take a look at HR Bill 1981 for some of the more hideous details. As usual, they justify it with some truly heinous scare tactics, but the end result is the same. Nobody wants to vote against a bill that "protects" children, do they?

      terry flores
  • The subject contains invalid characters

    wonderful-no such thing as civil liberties-I suspect you of being a terrorist, so until there is proof other wise you are
  • Makes me mad...

    We're drifting towards being completely watched, analysed, and ultimately owned by the very greedy, corrupt, power-hungry b******* that are supposed to work for us.

    We'll be like their little pets. They'll do with us what they like while policing our thoughts every day of every week of every year.
    They say "sit", and we sit, because they passed a law that says we have to, or they throw us in jail, because they passed a law that says they could, and we can't object, because they passed a law that says we can't.

    I think we're 10 years from that now, all over the world, and getting closer every day, and no one seems to care.
    • While way overly dramatic...

      you are probably close, but next time you see a bombing or a terrorist, you can thank then and small minded thinking personally for this. See people want the Gov't to do something to protect them...and yet they do not want to be bothered (intruded upon) to be protected. Unfortunately to catch the bad guys (terrorist etc) you need info- and to get that you have to snoop becasue the lower than life scum bags are mixed in with everyday people ... thus you get this. IMO,
      • sorry i cant agree

        It is like suggesting that to prevent crime we should all live in prison. The government have the power already to seek judicial authority to monitor anything but it has to be a approved by a legally qualified independent judge who needs to know there is reasonable cause for suspecting a crime is being or has been committed. This legislation will be put in the hands of a government minister who cannot be always expected to act impartially.

        Also not everyones definition of "low life scum bags" is the same. To a government waging a potentially illegal war that could be anyone who disagrees with them, or anyone who seeks to maybe organise a perfectly legal protest.
        Another concern is who is supposed to pick up the costs for this legislation that will almost certainly be used to protect the profits music and film industry more than to defeat terrorism.

        Yes I want the police to protect us as best they can and to use modern resources and joined up thinking but NOT by giving them to snoop on people without a shred of evidence.

        Extensive use of torture and imprisonment without trial could substantially reduce crime but I for one would not condone it as it makes the judicial authorities no better than the those they are trying to catch. We may as well tell the Murdochs that it is OK to hack telephones and email accounts because it can easily be argued that news is in the public interest.

        We could deal with issues in rogue states by using nuclear weapons, or even greater use of conventional ones, so what if innocent people in those countries are killed!

        Civilised governments have a responsibility to make ethical behaviour a rule, and yes that does sometimes mean fighting an enemy with one hand tied behind your back, so be it - you cannot morally fight for peoples freedom by taking freedom away from others.
    • @Naryan .. it's more commonly known as

      Life imitating Art .. and doing a frighteningly accurate job of it.

      All that remains now is to create the 'Four Ministries': Love, Peace, Plenty & Truth.

      Again, and this is even more chillingly close to home, we already have Proles, Inners and Outers (and always seem to have had): (1) lower-working/blue-collar class, (2) middle class / white collar / executive / scholars, and (3) ruling classes: aristocracy, royalty, corporate magnates and captains of industry).

      Also, for the most part, we've always had a persistent illusion of freedom. That's not to be confused with the completely hypothetical concept of true and real freedom to do what ever one pleases - within the realms of common law. When you reach that stark realization, this whole totalitarian bent of most new millennial governments via legislation isn't that surprising. If anything, it becomes the expected. It's a sorry state to reach, but that's basically what it amounts to in the end.

      [i]" ... the board is set .. the pieces are in motion. "[/i]
    • Response to Naryan about surveilance and laws.

      We have been slaves for such a long time. I suppose now we are just becoming aware of it (some of us), and getting upset about it, because we had this illusion of being free. Like animals in a zoo we get watched. UK is the biggest surveilance country on the planet, most expensive petrol too, and still subjects to the monarch, whether we like it or not. We are less than their little pets. They don't give a 'flying you know what' about us. Listen to 'freedom to fascism'. They are utterly devoid of human, or even animal compassion.

      The more laws there are, the more unlawful a state becomes. In US they were the last bastion of the free human in material terms. Then they got their banking system in, and through secret societies they retain their power. A huge network. Half the players don't even know they are in it! Check out maritime law on Youtube and also 'freedom to fascism' by Aaron Russo. Very interesting.

      I am past bothering about my perceived slave 'status' as viewed by the 'elite' as they like to be known. Makes me laugh. Freedom is a state of mind, so I say they can watch all they like, I have nothing to hide or to be afraid of. I am free in my mind. Death will come to us all, including them. Remember, polititians are highly paid administrators. We have the illusion of a vote, and they do the bidding, not of us...we were never their employers as they have us thinking we are, no. The boss is at the highest levels of the banking systems and other elite families. Check out the thirteen elite families on the internet.

      You are correct that this is all about power, greed is only a part of it, the power is everything, (listen to Aaron Russo) and they have the systems in place to bribe us plebs into carrying out their orders. Some police etc are beginning to see through it all, like some of the rest of us. Even one or two polititians are beginning to open their eyes. Pressure from the public puts them on the hop. Still, for the most part all world polititians, dictators etc bow down to the lord of money and power. This I believe, is what is meant by the 'devil'. A state of mass consciousness that embodies enslaving oneself to the money bribes, and minds of the masterminders. Our decision to fall in to their trap. Just look at the music industry. bob Dylan and Michael Jackson both said it 'I sold my soul to the devil'. We know what they mean. I am no fundamentalist, but I have an open mind, and intelligence and wisdom if you like. I watch and see. I make up my own mind. Don't let this upset you, otherwise you are adding to the mass consciousness of fear and rage....just what they want. Much love.

      Still we love our errant children, but we do not have to obey or bow down to them. With love we shall conquer all our inner demons and die with a peaceful mind. Peace and love to you all. :-)
    • 1984 Orwell

      Wait for the remaining to come.

      Orwell just should have called it "2014".
  • I see

    Governments all over the world are nervous because electronic communications is one form of media that they have difficulty controlling.

    Let them sweat! As John Lennon said, "Power to the People."
    sissy sue
    • However ...

      Governments do have ultimate control. The internet is not a philosophical construct; it is a physical and commercial system that can be quite easily controlled by any government that wants to do so. All it takes is a gun, a badge, and a piece of paper to make the mighty AT&T or Google do EXACTLY what the government wants. As long as "the people" let it happen, government can do what it wants, and that's what is happening. For every SOPA victory, there are many losses like Patriot, DMCA, COA, and CALEA.
      terry flores
  • easy surveillance

    The problem with cybertraffic is not that it is so difficult to monitor for governments. On the contrary, since it is mostly text-based and nicely typed up, it is wonderfully easy to search. Governments are interested in this surveillance because now they can actually carry it out.
  • Join the E-petition to Save What's Left of Your Privacy

    An official e-petition was started when this subject was first mooted. It can be signed over at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/32400

    Personally, I am not confident in any supposed 'safeguard' that allows a single signature from a government minister (Home Secretary). And contrary to certain UK Euro-sceptic publications, this is not in order to comply with EU legislation.

    Still, I am also curious how they are going to enforce this on Websites hosted outside the UK. I see logistical and legal hurdles, but we the people need to speak up.

    Without public outcry, the only saving grace may be that if the government tries to develop an IT system to do the monitoring, it will likely fail... slowly and expensively.