Specious Arguments in Favour of Mass Surveillance

Richard Berry, of Gloucestershire Police and the National Police Chief’s Council has been making specious arguments in favour of ISPs retaining all of our browsing history and handing it over to the police, reports HuffPo.

“Five years ago (a suspect) could have physically walked into a bank and carried out a transaction. We could have put a surveillance team on that but now, most of it is done online. We just want to know about the visit.”

So, just to be clear, five years ago the police could put a suspect under surveillance in order to see what they were doing.  They could NOT retroactively follow that person around to see where they had BEEN.  Getting retrospective access to browsing history is not the same as being able to obtain a warrant to compel an ISP to assist with targeted surveillance.  Retrospective access would amount to a massive power grab by the Police that a) undermines the privacy of everyone in the UK, and b) amounts to a huge burden on ISPs who will have to pay for the storage of this data.

Conversely, one can imagine that there might be a valuable case in asking ISPs to log visits to particular websites, again with a warrant, because that specific website is suspected of being a key part in illegal activity and refuses to co-operate directly with investigations – for instance the publication of online abuse imagery such as “revenge porn”.  Targeted surveillance, with judicial oversight, of a particular website would be much easier to stomach than mass surveillance, with no oversight until the point that the police themselves actually want to access to the data.

For most people, the risks of storing personal information do not come from the police themselves.  There is a legitimate need to limit the powers of the state, but there is also a legitimate need to minimise the data that is collected in the first place.  With the recent attacks on TalkTalk, and the pretty steady series of data breaches in general, why should we be forced to trust anyone to keep such potentially sensitive data about us?