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All your communications are belong to us - GCHQ

by Mark Tyson on 3 April 2012, 14:34

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Next week, in the Queen's Speech, legislation is expected to be announced which would enable GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) to access UK residents' calls, texts, emails and web browsing in real time. The Home Office claims this communications data is vital to fight serious crime and terrorists. The period of data that would be stored is understood to be two years. Communications companies will have to install new hardware to help track voice, text and internet communications.

David Davis In 2006 a similar Big Brother law was abandoned by the then incumbent Labour party after fierce Conservative and Liberal criticism. Isabella Sankey, director of policy at Liberty, said "Whoever is in government, the grand snooping ambitions of security agencies don't change. Proposals to stockpile our web, phone and texting records were shelved by Labour. Now we see plans to recycle this chilling proposal leaking into the press."

Just as before, however, objections to this Big Brother behaviour span party divisions. Senior Tory MP David Davis is a well known opponent of Government snooping on innocent citizens; "It is not focusing on terrorists or on criminals. It is absolutely everybody. Historically governments have been kept out of our private lives," said Mr Davis.

"Our freedom and privacy has been protected by using the courts by saying 'If you want to intercept, if you want to look at something, fine, if it is a terrorist or a criminal go and ask a magistrate and you'll get your approval'. You shouldn't go beyond that in a decent, civilised society but that is what is being proposed."

In reaction to the news, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has been seeking assurances, limitations and safeguards to protect privacy. He wants to limit the scope of what is monitored and stored. Under pressure Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has insisted that "All we are doing is updating the rules which currently apply to mobile telephone calls to allow the police and security services to go after terrorists and serious criminals and updating that to apply to technology like Skype which is increasingly being used by people who want to make those calls and send those emails." Downing Street concurred that "...only data - times, dates, numbers and addresses - not content would be accessible."

GCHQ listening

There is still a way to go before this legislation can have any effect. The laws to make it happen will have to go through Parliament and then the House of Lords. Businesses represented by the Internet Service Providers Association are also obviously not happy with having to spend time and money on adding capability to monitor and store all this information.

Do you mind that all your communications data will be stored by various companies and government agencies or do you think that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear from this legislation?

HEXUS Forums :: 16 Comments

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We live in a policed state. big brother watching everything we do. shocking and not right at all.
Great idea but badly thought out.

The issue is that by definition the data collection system becomes a target. Hence the thing that is suppose to protect is infact the thing that is best attacked.
I think it's time for the Scots to rebuild good ol Hadrian's wall, this time to keep Whitehall out. I've got nothing to hide but I don't want all my data to be “lost” (read sold to highest bidder) by the government, they already do enough of that as it is.
Even if they're only storing “data” like web addresses, phone numbers, to/from headers etc etc that's enough for the same criminals and terrorists to find out everything about you. Plus do you really think that these hardened criminals and terrorists are using open standards of communication? Or that they don't use encryption? This is all a front to enable something more power than Big Brother, they want Big Sister, she's a real Bitch!
This isn't a case of “Do you have somethin to hide?” it's a case of “Do you trust the Government to not lose your data?”
Can't see this ever making it through and if it did really being of any use. Surely the cost to the industry would be prohibitive without government subsidy? That's a lot of storage to hold all those records, and besides if you run your email or web browsing over an SSL protocol all an ISP can store is vaguely where your traffic went, which is easily undermined with proxies or TOR.

Phone calls and texts might be a bit different, I suppose siphoning off phone data is harder for the end user to circumvent, but if crims knew it was monitored (which they will thanks to massive publicity) they'd just switch to an encrypted IM system using servers overseas out of friendly jurisdiction. Sure the ISP/Telco records that PAYG phone X (registered with false name) sent data packets to a server in Russia… but what actual use is that?

Big Brother laws are never going to work because the real hardcore well organised criminals, the ones we REALLY want to catch are always just going to have a way round it. It just impinges on the freedom of the rest of us, costs a fortune to implement and for no good.
Erm… anyone remember the direct action campaign from previous email surveillance worries re: The US gov (basically putting a stream of randomly generated potential ‘keywords’ at the end of, or as invisible text in, emails). The general principle was that if enough people did it, the automated filters would be useless and the manpower required to check/sort emails manually would make it unfeasible to snoop in an untargeted manner. Ditto with adding some crappy low-level encryption (easy to break/ can even provide its own key) which would barely be noticable to the end user but the cumulative computing time required for anyone trying to decrypt/analyze all emails on spec would again be prohibitive.

Would an equivalent system be feasible (makes/sends multiple fake/automatically ignored messages each time a real one is sent - hide all the real data in a sea of crap). The gov would still be able to find out info on specific individuals but the idea would be for the resource requirements for blanket monitoring to be prohibitive.