Government slammed for using Charlie Hebdo attack to revive Snoopers Charter


The Government needs to keep a "cool head" about how much access the security services should have to people's private data, in the wake of last week's Paris shootings.

That's according to Christopher Graham, the UK's Information Commissioner, who warned the Government off making any rash decisions about curtailing the use of encrypted online services for surveillance purposes.

"We need cool heads to analyse carefully what information the security services had access to [in the run up to the shootings] and how they used it before necessarily concluding that we must give [the powers that be] access to more and more of our private information," he said during a speech marking the 125th Roscoe Lecture at Liverpool's John Moores University.

"We must avoid knee-jerk reactions. In particular, I am concerned about any compromising of effective encryption for consumers of online services."

His comments follows the news earlier this week about the Prime Minister's plans to stop people using encrypted messaging services, such as WhatsApp and iMessage, on anti-terrorism grounds.

As reported by IT Pro yesterday, David Cameron said he would not hesitate to legislate against the use of these services, should his party remain in power beyond the 2015 General Election.

Graham went on to say that offering encryption to users of online services is an essential step in the fight against cybercrime, but accepts these services could be exploited by people who use them to operate under the radar.

That's why a healthy balance must be struck between protecting the privacy of individuals, and the public interest in keeping tabs on people's online activities.

"In matters of security, we surely need an effective, American-style Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board or the equivalent to find the right balance," he added.

The ICO isn't the only industry body concerned by the push to give the intelligence services greater online surveillance powers since the attack on offices and staff of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

In a statement, Nicholas Lansman, secretary general for the Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), said doing so would be the "easy way out" for politicians.

Particularly those intent on using the attacks to make a renewed push to introduce the controversial Communications Data Bill, AKA The Snoopers Charter.

"Existing legislation already allows for suspects' communications to be intercepted via a warrant, and the retention of communications data, which is already being retained in the UK, would also have been available to the intelligence services and the police under the existing RIPA process," Lansman added.

"While the draft Communications Data Bill would have provided access to broader data set, it is questionable whether it would have helped to prevent the incidents in Paris and the industry and UK citizens should be provided with a clear justification for why the Bill is needed now."

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.