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Section 94 – the UK Section 215

Posted by on August 15, 2015.

Julian Huppert, lecturer at Cambridge and formerly a Lib Dem MP, has written about a disturbing piece of legislation that most of us don’t know exists: Section 94 of The Telecommunications Act 1984. It is somewhat secretive — so secretive that even he, when an elected representative of the people, could not discover how often it has been used, nevermind in what way it has been used. In reality, even if he does know, Section 94 would prevent him telling us about Section 94. So maybe he does know, and this is his way of warning us. Here it is in full. Then I’ll paraphrase.

Click for original & full sizeParaphrase
The Secretary of State, after consulting with anyone (of British, American, Russian, Chinese or any other nationality) about anything, may instruct any telecommunications provider (eg, BT, Virgin, TalkTalk etcetera) to do anything the Secretary of State wishes (eg, install black boxes, apply spyware to customers’ routers, etc, etc).

However, it must be proportionate to what the consulted person requests. For example, if the NSA wants BT to spy on everyone, then BT must proportionately spy on everyone (GCHQ already does it, so that’s OK).

The telecommunications company must then do what the Secretary of State instructs regardless of any effect it may have on the company’s business.

The Secretary of State must tell Parliament what he or she has done under Section 94, unless the Secretary of State doesn’t want to. And if anybody at all finds out about any Section 94 order, that person must not say anything at all about it to anyone at all.

At his (or her) own discretion the Secretary of State may decide to pay an unlimited amount to the Telecommunications companies for any disturbance to its business caused by a Section 94 order. Said payment to be taken from our tax money.

The telecommunications regulator is also bound by Section 94, so the telecommunications regulator cannot regulate anything that has anything to do with Section 94.

Neat, isn’t it? But at least it explains why the UK government has made no complaints about the NSA’s use of PATRIOT Section 215. Its own 1984 Section 94 predates PATRIOT Section 215 – and it is much worse.

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