Govt ‘Massively Retreating’ From Black Boxes Of Snooper’s Charter
TechWeekEurope understands the Home Office is “retreating massively” from installing black boxes in ISPs to watch over people’s communications
On the day the “snooper’s charter” was announced in the Queen’s Speech, the Home Office is already moving towards killing a key part of the bill, TechWeekEurope has learned.
The original plan for the Communications Bill proposed that “black boxes” (sealed units that gather data) should be installed at ISPs like BT and Virgin, from which communications data on all online citizens would be shipped off to GCHQ for inspection. But the Home Office is now moving away from the idea of black boxes, even as the draft Bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech today, according to a source within government.
The source said the government is “retreating massively” from forcing black boxes upon ISPs. Instead the government is simply looking to make it clearer what it expects from communications providers when asked, “rather than black boxes,” the source told TechWeekEurope.
Lib Dems claim victory
Separately, Liberal Democrat MPs have been claiming success in fighting the initial plans. They had already managed to kick the proposals out of a more general crime bill, which has been described as a “massive defeat for the Home Office”.
As for what happens now, the draft bill is yet to be published, but when it is put down on paper it will come in the form of draft clauses. That will not be the final version of the draft, but will “look like a full bill”, Huppert said.
“That will give all of us a chance to read it and see what it says and it will force the Home Office to say what they actually plan to do because they have been woefully unclear about what it is they want to do,” he added. “It will then go to a scrutiny committee. I don’t know yet whether or not that will be the Home Affairs Select Committee, which I serve on, or whether it would be a specially constituted committee.”
Huppert said, in theory, the draft could become law in the next year, but it would depend on how the bill looked. “It depends on the urgency and I think it also depends on how large the changes are. If it ends up being a few small tweaks, then I think we’d just say ‘OK can we get on with this and not waste anymore time on it?’” he said.
“My expectation is that by the time we get to a draft bill it will look a lot better and after it comes out of scrutiny it will look even better than that.
“The Home Office cannot play the game they’ve always played of rushing things through with no time to work out what it is they are actually talking about. That is why this draft is just so key.”
Facebook and Google are also looking for more clarity from the government, according to Huppert, who held a meeting last month with the two tech giants and others to talk about the proposals.
Although little information has been forthcoming on the technical aspects of the bill, a piece of documentation to support the announcement in the Queen’s Speech has been released. It outlines various provisos of the draft bill. That includes a 12-monthy limit on how long communications providers can hold onto data for, as well as a guarantee that the Information Commissioner’s Office will be responsible for monitoring the security of that information and its deletion at the end of the 12-month period.
The Home Office did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
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