October 28, 2010 | Jim Killock

Misinformation about mass surveillance: IMP is back

Some commentators are speculating that the new budgets for Intercept Modernisation Programme (IMP) are not what they might seem, but something smaller and less instrusive. We are certain that IMP is back on the cards, however.

On Wednesday, Julian Huppert MP asked David Cameron:

Can the Prime Minister reassure the House that the Government have no plans to revive Labour's intercept modernisation programme, whether in name or in function, and that he remains fully committed to the pledge in the coalition agreement to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and to roll back state intrusion?

Cameron replied:

... We are not considering a central Government database to store all communications information, and we shall be working with the Information Commissioner's Office on anything we do in that area.

This is very telling. Our Prime Minister had a chance here to state plainly that no such plans was being considered. Instead, he ruled out what was ruled out by Labour.

Labour, after all, abandoned plans to intercept Internet traffic and create a centralized database. What they chose to delay was a plan to intercept communications data and have ISPs store it.

Mass interception and storage of data are both highly intrusive and we believe illegal under EU law. The current Data Retention Directive – which requires ISPs to “retain” communications data – is under challenge and could be ruled illegal. Several member states have already rejected it as unconstitutional as mass data retention breaches their citizens’ privacy rights.

Interception goes a step further. It is difficult to see how mass, pre-emptive interception could or should be legal. But that doesn’t seem to be worrying the officials in the Home Office who want IMP, whatever the colour of the government.

It is vital that MPs and Ministers stand firm against the views of these officials. If you haven’t already, please sign our petition to demand that Cameron, Clegg and Theresa May protect our privacy.