Although the Government has climbed down from its plans to establish a central database of all communications data, it proposes to make communications service providers hold it instead, for a whole year. Then "public authorities" and "investigators" would be given access to it for their purposes.
The title of the consultation document itself is an irony-free piece of doublethink: "Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment." In this the author has tried to establish a false common enemy. It implies that it's us and the Government against Technology, against Change itself. "We'll protect you," can then run the argument.
For all the mentions of balance in the document (7 of them, in fact) it's hard to present a balanced choice once the frame has been set.
No wonder they want to tip the balance: the Government is worried that the pace of technological change is running away from them faster than their salami-slicing tactics of hoarding up every last piece of data about us can keep up. Methods of communication are improving and increasing so mass surveillance is getting cumbersome and expensive.
Note the use of words like "degrade" in the foreword, which make date stamps on our text messages sound like some kind of weapons-grade data plutonium in the war against the bogeyman:
"I am clear that to do nothing in the face of these developments - thus allowing the capability to use communications data to degrade - could lead to more crimes left unsolved and more cases where public authorities could not protect people from harm."
And my favourite: Point 21 of the conclusion:
"This consultation covers an important topic that affects us all. The capability to use communications data to protect the public is being eroded by new technology. In seeking to maintain that capability, the Government must strike the right balance between public safety and privacy."
Eroded? Not our freedom, but the Government's ability to use information about our private lives. And this is presented as a Bad Thing.
The Home Secretary signs off with, "I look forward to hearing your views."
Well, log this, Jacqui:
No database. You can chop it up and hide it among all the comms service providers you like, but you're still keeping tabs on us.
Please write to your MP and object to routine Government surveillance.
Read the consultation document, answer the questions and make your own comments, then send them to:
Communications Data Consultation
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF
Or by e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE: You can also comment on the document here, via www.writetoreply.org. (Hat-tip: Owen Blacker)
Crossposted from Liberal Democrat Voice, an independent, collaborative website run by Liberal Democrat activists. Helen is a contributing editor at the site.