UNITED KINGDOM—Granted, it sounds so inoffensive coming from the Queen's lips. How, indeed, could such a pleasant royal ever overstep the boundaries of propriety, even if what she's asking for—nay, demanding!—are the keys to the box in which many of your most private thoughts are stored? Wednesday, in opening the new session of Parliament, the Queen, as anticipated, did nevertheless announce long-simmering plans by the government to codify in law its authority to monitor the online activity of citizens who live in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
"My government," she stated, "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."
According to The Register, "It's unclear if those 'strict safeguards' mean that a warrant, for example, would be needed before spooks could access such data. The rough proposal appeared to only fuzzily indicate that such protection for British citizens would be provided, however."
One is not completely in the dark as to the government's intentions, however. The plans have been an open secret since before the formation of the Coalition, and a document since issued by the Home Office provides an outline of what to expect, including the bill's main "benefits," which include:
* The ability of the police and intelligence agencies to continue to access communications data which is vital in supporting their work in protecting the public.
* An updated framework for the collection, retention and acquisition of communications data which enables a flexible response to technological change."
As The Register has noted, however, despite assurances from the government that the expansion of powers is necessary and will not include looking at actual communications but only data about the communications, "many have complained that the cabinet minister's reassurances are unfounded given that the net-snooping plan would involve [British intelligence] operatives monitoring everything an individual does online, if not snoop on the content of messages."
The article added, "The time and duration of communications would be probed, as would telephone numbers or email addresses that have been contacted, and 'sometimes the location of the originator of the communication.'"
Despite the lack of technical details provided by either the Queen or the Home Office, the requested expansion of powers was originally expected to be inserted into other related bills but is now being offered as a standalone bill, which will bring with it greater scrutiny by members of Parliament.
As AVN has recently reported, similar efforts are underway in the States.