The government has come under fire following the publication of the Draft Communication Data Bill, labelled by its opponents as an intrusive and draconian piece of ill-thought-out legislation.
Under the terms of the Draft Communications Data Bill, internet service providers (ISPs) would be forced to hand over information on the recipients and senders of all emails transferred via their servers - but not, the government is keen to point out, the content of the email, which is protected until a court order is obtained demanding its release - along with a list of all websites visited by their customers.
The Bill, naturally, is being spun as a protective measure designed to enhance the safety of the nation's populace. 'Communications data saves lives. It is a vital tool for the police to catch criminals and to protect children,
' claimed home secretary Theresa May - pulling out, you'll note, the classic 'think of the children' defence. 'If we stand by as technology changes, we will leave police officers fighting crime with one hand tied behind their backs. Checking communication records, not content, is a crucial part of day-to-day policing and the fingerprinting of the modern age – we are determined to ensure its continued availability in cracking down crime.
According to figures released by the government, the cost of implementing the Bill should the draft proposal be accepted will reach as high as £1.8 billion over the next ten years - money that is to come directly from public coffers, at a time when the country is still recovering from the financial slump of recent years and forking out billions to fund the hosting of the Olympic Games.
That figure, the government claims in further defence of the Bill, will be dwarfed by a raft of 'benefits' totalling between £5 billion and £6.2 billion over the same period. 'The largest category of benefits are direct financial benefits,
' the draft version of the Bill claims, 'arising mainly from preventing revenue loss through tax fraud and facilitating the seizure of criminal assets.
Andy Halsall, campaigns officer of the pro-privacy Pirate Party, has dubbed the bill 'a snooper's charter
.' In a statement released to coincide with the Draft Communications Data Bill, Halsall claimed: 'The Pirate Party is committed to civil liberties and the protection of personal information online - it does not support the arbitrary wiretapping of an entire nation. At one time it seemed the coalition felt the same. Their Coalition agreement included statements that: 'We will introduce safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation; We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.'
'Those promises appear to not be worth the paper they were written on,
Halsall claimed, 'and we now face a huge threat in the form of the CDB.
Even within their own respective parties, the coalition is finding resistance to its plans to monitor communications traffic. Speaking to BBC Radio 4, senior Tory David Davis described the Bill's proposals as 'incredibly intrusive
' and questioned its efficacy, claiming that it would only 'catch the innocent and incompetent.
If you want to make up your own mind on the matter, the full Draft Communications Bill CM 8395 - to give it its official title - can be downloaded from the government's official documents server in PDF format