RSA 2012: Jimmy Wales Set For ‘Snooper’s Charter’ Showdown With Theresa May

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is planning to meet with home secretary Theresa May next month to talk about the problems with the Communications Data Bill, known amongst its critics as ‘Snooper’s Charter’.

Wales has been lobbying the government on a number of issues, in particular on extradition laws. In June, he set up a petition, which has gained over 215,000 signatures, asking the home secretary to block the extradition of student Richard O’Dwyer to the US, where copyright owners want to take him to court for alleged infringement by the TVShack.net site.

Now he will look to influence May on the Communications Data Bill, which he and many others have qualms with.

“I am going to meet with Theresa May next month and hopefully have a conversation on what the problems are and I’m writing my objections to share with Number 10 and with the Home Office,” Wales told TechWeekEurope.

Jimmy Wales: Start-ups should get snooper’s money

The bill, if it is written into the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) as planned, would allow police and intelligence bodies access to communications data on suspects, without the need for a warrant. Senior workers in each police force would have to give permission, not a judge.

The government has repeatedly stressed the Communications Data Bill is designed to catch terrorists and serious offenders, and that it would not allow authorities to view the content of any communications, only who has contacted whom, from where and when.

But others see the bill’s proposals as technologically infeasible and anti-privacy. Some point to the high cost of the bill, which could reach £2.5 billion. Wales has similar issues.

“My objections are from a human rights perspective, but we don’t even need to talk about the human rights as I think from a technical point of view it is just stupid,” Wales said.

“It won’t even achieve what they hoped for and it is going to cost a fortune.

“The costs they are banding about is about the same as venture capital spends on start-ups in the UK. It’s not clear to me that is a good use of public resources.

“If that same amount of money went into start-ups in the UK, it would be a wonderful and amazing thing for the economy, which badly needs it, rather than this expensive thing to catch who, exactly?”

Wales said that the government should dump the idea of “escrowing and pre-archiving 66 million people’s data on the premise that a handful of them might be paedophiles”.

Previously, Wales had pledged to encrypt all its connections in the UK if the bill became an Act. Currently, a Joint Committee of MPs and members of the House of Lords. The public can no longer share their views, as the open consultation has closed.

The committee is due to release its report on the bill November. The Home Office will then decide whether or not to make amendments before it goes to Parliament.

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Thomas Brewster

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe's Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

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