Privacy International, The Open Rights Group and Big Brother Watch have jointly launched an attack on some of the UK’s biggest Internet service providers over their part in maintaining a ‘conspiracy of silence’ with the government over controversial proposals to massively expand the current level of web surveillance in Britain.
Today’s attack follows a warning issued to the government from cyber security experts who are calling on Cameron to halt the plans.
In an open letter to Virgin Media, BSkyB, BT, O2, TalkTalk, Royal Mail and Zen Internet, the campaign groups attack secret meetings held between the ISP’s and the Home Office to discuss the draft Communications Data Bill.
“It has become clear that a critical component of the Communications Data Bill is that UK communication service providers will be required by law to create data they currently do not have any business purpose for, and store it for a period of 12 months.
“Plainly, this crosses a line no democratic country has yet crossed – paying private companies to record what their customers are doing solely for the purposes of the state.
“These proposals are not fit for purpose, which possibly explains why the Home Office is so keen to ensure they are not aired publicly.
“There has been no public consultation, while on none of your websites is there any reference to these discussions. Meetings have been held behind closed doors as policy has been developed in secret, seemingly the same policy formulated several years ago despite widespread warnings from technical experts.
“That your businesses appear willing to be co-opted as an arm of the state to monitor every single one of your customers is a dangerous step, exacerbated by your silence.”
At the time of publication, only one company has responded to criticism. TalkTalk said:
“Any issues with the government process for comment or consultation is a matter for government and should be taken up with them. Frankly it is wholly incorrect to suggest that ISPs are in a conspiracy with the Home Office.
“We have engaged with government in the process so they can understand the practical implications of their proposals. We have always emphasised the need for consultation, the importance of protecting customers’ privacy and that we would only ever act in response to legislation.”
In February of this year, Zen Internet suspiciously shut down the RINF website without warning, refusing to re-active the website and simply stated ‘technical issues’ as their reason, despite the website working fine on other hosting providers.
In November, O2 blocked access to RINF and What Really Happened – they eventually backed down following pressure from our website visitors. O2 staff admitted that they could not explain why the website was blocked, but What Really Happened is still banned on the ISP’s network.