The row about so-called data snooping continues to rage in the UK and the United States after it was revealed that British police made a total of 733,237 requests to mobile carriers to access communications data in the last three years, with only 8 percent of such requests being turned down by the judiciary.
The figures were released by the pro-privacy group Big Brother Watch as part of its newly released Freedom of Information study.
Campaigners and law enforcement officials have been locked in a data and privacy war since the latter part of last decade, when it was revealed that police and other government-run organizations in the UK were requesting data from carriers on average at least once every 60 seconds – which campaigners said equated to about 1,4000 requests per day.
Big Brother Watch’s chief executive, Renate Samson, told media outlets, “Modern policing and the use of technology in investigating crime should be more transparent. We are repeatedly told that communications data plays a significant role in modern policing, yet the reports' findings pose serious questions about the internal approval process which differs from force to force.”
The developments in the UK come as a proposed amendment to the United States’ Patriot Act failed to pass in the Senate, which will now prevent American spy agencies from bulk-monitoring American citizens’ mobile data.
A furious White House issued a statement saying, "On a matter as critical as our national security, individual senators must put aside their partisan motivations and act swiftly. The American people deserve nothing less."
However, opponents of the bill, such as Republican senator Rand Paul, said that proposals to allow data collections was unconstitutional and posed a threat to the privacy of ordinary Americans. Paul said, “This is what we fought the revolution over. Are we going to so blithely give up our freedom"
Meanwhile, British home secretary Theresa May looks poised to revive her stalled legislative push to increase the police’s surveillance powers after her previous attempts to require internet and mobile carriers to retain records of customers’ browsing activity, social media use, emails, voice calls, online gaming and text messages for a period of one year should these later be requested by the police. Previous attempts to pass such legislation were blocked by the ruling Conservative party’s former coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats. However, after last month’s British general election left the Conservatives with a majority government, May has hinted that she will seek to revive the bill.
Critics have slammed the move, calling it a “blanket surveillance” measure that does not target suspicious individuals, but rather allows for wider monitoring that one critic called “police state-like measures.”