Nov 24, 2014 · 1 minute

A new bill expected to be revealed on Wednesday would require Internet service providers in the United Kingdom to keep records of their customers' IP addresses which would be handed over to police to combat terrorism, online bullying, suicidal thoughts, and other emergencies.

The decision to introduce a bill specifically tailored towards the collection of this information is thought to be a sign that the government has given up on its so-called Snooper's Charter, which would have allowed it to acquire even more information about what its citizens do on the Web.

The bill is also an alternative to widespread surveillance systems that indiscriminately gather data from many people at a time. Police would have to identify whose information they wanted and would have "to make sure there were proper sign-offs" on its use, the Wall Street Journal reports. Records would also document how often the government asked for such information.

Similar efforts have been revealed for companies in the United States, but a common criticism levied against them has been that courts would "rubber-stamp" government requests for data, making the custody of the information a moot point in terms of meaningful surveillance reform.

This bill differs in its decision to limit data to IP addresses -- unlike that Snooper's Charter, which would have allowed police to also access information about citizens' communications -- and has support from both sides of the UK's political aisle.

Still, it's not clear that invoking things like child pornography or mental illness are indicative of the bill's true intentions. Governments often make such claims and then use the powers granted to them to spy on their citizens, gather information, and create de facto surveillance systems.

Much like attempts to reform the National Security Agency's surveillance programs or release the report detailing the Central Intelligence Agency's post-9/11 torture programs, this bill is the best of several bad options. Unfortunately it doesn't seem like anyone's going to be given much more than that, at least not while fear-mongers can invoke terrorism to do whatever they want.

[illustration by Brad Jonas]