MPs want to revive the snooper's charter. Here's why it's still a terrible idea

Devil on computer
We already have powers to trace bad people's connections

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo! and Twitter have written to the UK government, warning that its proposed snooper's charter - aka the Communications Data Bill - is a truly terrible idea.

The thought of Facebook and Google complaining about unaccountable organisations mining people's personal data is rather ironic, of course, but they're right.

Most people thought the snooper's charter was dead, and it was - but some MPs have used the horrific murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich to try and bring it back again.

Home secretary Theresa May says it's essential that we give intelligence agencies access to everybody's communications data, and defence secretary Philip Hammond agrees. Writing in The Times, Nick Herbert MP says that if you disagree with the bill, you're a paranoid liberal who believes that "letting the security agencies find out who terrorist suspects have been talking to is as evil as hacking down an unarmed soldier".

Unfortunately for the politicians, even MI5 disagrees with them. Speaking to The Independent, "senior security sources" say that claims the snooper's charter would have prevented the Woolwich murder were absolute rubbish.

Fight the powers

There are lots of concerns over the snooper's charter, and few of them are paranoid liberalism. People are concerned because the plans could waste an enormous amount of money that would be better spent on more targeted surveillance.

They're concerned that the data might be used for more than just fighting terrorism - Big Brother Watch points out that comms data is already being used to prosecute downloaders and traffic offences and could be requested by divorce lawyers or insurance companies - and they're concerned that the proposed measures would generate more data than the security services could ever hope to analyse.

More than anything, they're concerned that the bill wouldn't make a damn bit of difference to the things we're told it will protect us from.

Big Brother Watch again: "If someone is a possible terrorist, the police and agencies can already monitor their online activity."

The relevant information is online on here (PDF). However, "if, for example, an encrypted form of communication is used (like Facebook) then the Communications Data Bill would not have yielded any information". And intercepted communications aren't admissible as evidence in UK courts.

Politicians aren't great at understanding technology, and it seems they're not too great at understanding what powers the authorities already have.

The result is knee-jerk posturing and calls to resurrect a bad bill that wouldn't have done a single thing to prevent the Woolwich murder. Given the choice between listening to Theresa May and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, we're with Sir Tim every time.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now and her next book, about pop music, is out in 2025. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band Unquiet Mind.