Privacy groups attack ISPs over support for 'Snoopers' Charter'

O2, Virgin, Talk Talk among service providers accused of 'consipiring' with Home Office on Communications Data Bill

Privacy groups have urged a number of ISPs to withdraw their participation in consultations on the controversial Communications Data Bill, criticising them for putting business interests ahead of customer privacy.

In a letter addressed to the heads of major UK internet service providers, including Sky, Virgin, Talk Talk, O2 and BT, a group of privacy advocate organisations have criticised involvement in the proposed legislation, dubbed the 'Snoopers' Charter'.

The letter, signed by Big Brother Watch, Privacy International and Open Rights Group stated: "We believe this is a critical failure not only of Government, but a betrayal of your customers' interests. You appear to be engaged in a conspiracy of silence with the Home Office, the only concern being whether or not you will be able to recover your costs."

It continues: "We urge you to withdraw your participation in a process that in our view is deeply flawed, pursuing a pre-determined solution that puts competition, security and privacy at risk in an unprecedented way."

The Bill has received widespread criticism from many quarters in the past, including from a joint parliamentary committee, as well as the ISPs themselves. It is expected that the Bill will impose legal requirements on ISPs to collate data on customers, with O2 and Virgin among those claiming that collecting large amounts of data across their networks would be involve immense costs, resulting in the distortion of competition.

New powers granted under the Bill would enable police and security services to monitor internet activity and email communications subject to a warrant being issued, though stopping shot of gaining access to email content. A draft version of the Bill was published in October, and it is thought that a finalised version could be ready for the Queen's Speech in May.

The privacy groups also attacked the lack of transparency with which negotiations have conducted, with much of the policy discussions taking place "behind closed doors", and accused the ISPs of bending to the will of the Home Office over privacy concerns.

"That your businesses appear willing to be co-opted as an arm of the state to monitor every single one of your customers is a dangerous step, exacerbated by your silence," the letter read.

"Many businesses have made a virtue of respecting consumer privacy and ensuring safe and secure internet access. Sadly, your customers have not had the opportunity to comment on these proposals."

Separately, the Bill also came under fire today from a group of academics and computer science experts addressing David Cameron, calling on the Prime Minister to "abandon" the Bill.

The group of academics including Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at Cambridge University's computer laboratory, Angela Sasse, professor of human-centred technology at UCL and Ian Brown, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, warned of the closed nature of consultations on the proposed legislation.

"Many of the technical experts consulted are people that will profit from the plans, whether they succeed or fail. Outside independent experts have not been meaningfully involved in any way," the letter, published on Big Brother Watch's website, states.

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