Under the guise of fighting online fraud, U.K. officials say the proposal is simply about catching criminals in the act. Watchdog groups and others, however, are raising the alarm about the civil liberties implications.
Last year, the U.K. government responded to an inquiry about the proposal claiming that existing measures on the books are wholly inadequate when it comes to tackling online fraud – but is this actually true?
According to those pushing the measure, less than eight percent of reported fraud crimes online are actually investigated. This, we are told, is due to a lack of focus combined with a lack of understanding about the evolving complexity of how online fraud takes place.
Because of this, U.K. authorities want to implement drastic new changes built on the back of a "wholesale change in philosophy and practice – but will it actually work without erasing every last trace of user privacy in the U.K.?
(Related: In May, the Dallas Independent School District [ISD] launched an artificial intelligence [AI] spying and surveillance system to keep a constant eye on all.)
According to reports, the GCHQ wants direct access to Internet Connection Records (ICRs), a trove of metadata that includes details about the types of services that people's devices are not connecting to, but supposedly not the content being accessed.
"At present, ICRs are relegated to identifying individuals already under suspicion," Reclaim the Net reported.
"However, this proposed legislation would expand the powers, potentially allowing ICRs to be used in identifying new suspects – a radical shift. The government's obscure communication surrounding this proposal highlights the need for public scrutiny."
David Anderson, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, was tasked with conducting an independent review of this new proposal. He received an operation case from the GCHQ that claims improved access to ICRs could be used to better detect financial fraud and even child sexual abuse cases by identifying patterns of online behavior rather than specifics.
The logistics of accessing and processing all this metadata is an entirely different story, though, as the GCHQ had trouble enacting another policy that was implemented in 2016, the Investigatory Powers Act, until just this year.
"Their deployment is hindered by substantial costs, technical complexity and the shifting landscape of internet usage," reports explained.
Even more up for debate than the technical hurdles are the civil rights violations that the new proposal would allow. It is one thing to prevent crime, and another thing entirely to invade people's personal privacy under the guise of preventing crime.
"The proposed legislation, if enacted, could lead us into uncharted waters, where the government's gaze over our online activities becomes the norm," reports said. "In a world where privacy is becoming increasingly cherished, the sudden windfall of power to GCHQ feels like an Orwellian twist."
"The public and the guardians of civil liberties must be vigilant. The price for security should not be the pawn of privacy. One must wonder whether in our pursuit to combat online fraud, we are at risk of creating an omnipotent surveillance state that might leave the citizenry perpetually under the watchful eye of Big Brother."
The latest news about the government's ramped-up efforts to control people's online behavior can be found at Surveillance.news.
Sources for this article include: