England Seems to Think Snooping to Stop 'Cyberbulling' Is Actually a Selling Point

Some might find this argument in favor of expanded surveillance a bit underwhelming.


"You've got nothing to fear, unless you've ever been rude to anybody on the Internet and that's hardly anybody, right?"
Credit: UK Home Office / photo on flickr

I suppose we should give the Brits points for honesty, maybe? In America, authorities have insisted that federal surveillance of Americans was solely for the purpose of stopping potential terror threats. It's a complete lie, we've come to realize. Federal and local law enforcement officials have been using various tracking and surveillance tools for the purpose of domestic crime-fighting and have been keeping it a secret from courts and defendants to the point of even dropping cases rather than having to reveal the truth.

In England, though, they're being completely clear that they intend to potentially use expanded surveillance authorities for more than just fighting terror. The United Kingdom is considering the Investigatory Powers Bill, which would authorize the bulk collection of Internet users' communications data and require Internet Service Providers to maintain and provide data for law enforcement officials, without a warrant, and would require U.K.-based companies to allow the government to bypass encryption.

British media outlet The Times (paywalled) discovered over the holidays that the government hopes to use this vast new power to fight not just actual threats of violence, but "cyberbullying." And apparently the British government seems to think this is a selling point for the law. Techradar lays it out:

The new spying laws outlined in the Investigatory Powers Bill will let police track down and unmask anonymous online trolls with the help of internet service providers, which will be forced to keep a record of connections made by individuals.

The revelation was made in a letter written by UK Home Secretary Theresa May in response to a question from MP James Cartlidge, obtained by The Times.

"Interned connection records would update the capability of law enforcement in a criminal investigation to determine the sender and recipient of a communication," said May, "for example, a malicious message such as those exchanged in cyberbullying."

While May's remarks put a more positive spin on the bill, it's unlikely to give opponents a change of heart. The bill will still be opening up the UK to mass surveillance, with ISPs logging internet records of all users.

Two countries separated by a common language and all that. "No, we will actually use this law to snoop on our own citizens and charge them with domestic crimes. Isn't that great?" The use is justified by Cartlidge because "cyberbullying" causes "nasty, psychological attacks that particularly affect young people."

The Independent notes that similar surveillance authorities passed by China garnered international outrage, while for England, we have Apple warning that the law would endanger the privacy and security of the citizenry.

Oh, and it goes without saying, this doesn't mean that the citizenry could get the same access to the history of their public officials' online behavior.