George Orwell in 1948 wrote his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. It described a nation under constant surveillance by Big Brother.
Great Britain is about to implement it, except for two-way TVs.
Call someone on the phone? Your records will show it. The authorities will be able to access this without a warrant.
What about visiting a Web site? That, too.
Text messages and emails will be monitored.
The government swears that it will not eavesdrop. No, no, no. It will only store records.
The data will be stored for a year.
It will be stored longer than that. Trust me. Somewhere, it will be stored.
The proposed law is 118 pages long.
The Home Office Secretary Theresa May is the equivalent of the Attorney General in the USA. She will not hear of opposition to this perfectly reasonable law.
“Our proposals are sensible and limited,” she wrote in The Sun, the country’s top-selling daily. “They will give the police and some other agencies access to data about online communications to tackle crime, exactly as they do now with mobile phone calls and texts. Unless you are a criminal, then you’ve nothing to worry about from this new law.”
In the United States, we have a Bill of Rights. The Framers knew they would have to prevent the government from hassling citizens if they wanted the voters to accept the Constitution. They knew better than to say, “You have nothing to worry about if you’re innocent.”
The British have no written constitution.
Human rights defenders were aghast. Privacy group Big Brother Watch said the proposal risked turning Britain into a “nation of suspects.” Civil rights organization Liberty said the law would mean the “indiscriminate stockpiling of private data.”
What will be involved? A lot.
The bill would force providers — companies such as the BT Group PLC or Virgin Media Inc. — to log where emails, tweets, Skype calls and other messages were sent from, who was sending them, who they were sent to, and how large they were. Details of file transfers, phone calls, text messages and instant conversations, such as those carried over BlackBerry Messenger, would also be recorded.
The bill demands that providers collect IP addresses, details of customers’ electronic hardware, and subscriber information, including names, addresses, and payment information.
What May didn’t mention in her editorial — and the Home Office left off its press release — was that the government also is seeking to keep logs of citizens’ Internet history, giving officials access to the browsing habits of roughly 60 million people — including sensitive visits to medical, dating, or pornography websites.
Of course, “it’s for the children!” Of course, “it’s to stop terrorists.”
Officials say they need all that information to stay on top of a rapidly-changing technological landscape. Britain’s online child protection agency said Thursday it was missing out on a quarter of the traffic used by child pornography networks. In an editorial in the Times of London entitled “Trust me, I need to know about your emails,” Scotland Yard chief Bernard Hogan-Howe said that the collection of communications data played a role in 95 percent of serious organized crime operations.
The Home Secretary laid it on the line. “Without changing the law the only freedom we would protect is that of criminals, terrorists and pedophiles.”
If Parliament passes this monstrosity, that will send a message: Orwell was right about Great Britain.
Big Brother will be watching you.