Apparently, according to this Ministerial Statement yesterday, the Home Office has lost control of the National Technical Assistance Centre to the Foreign Office:
31 Oct 2006 : Column 11WS
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
National Technical Assistance Centre
The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Margaret Beckett): The National Technical Assistance Centre (NTAC) was formally transferred from the Home Office to Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in April 2006. As the Minister responsible for GCHQ, I now have ministerial oversight of its activities.
There have been no changes to NTAC's remit, mandate or customer base.
NTAC was set up originally in the wake of the introduction of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, and was supposedly "housed securely" under the aegis of the Security Service MI5, which comes under the Home Secretary John Reid's empire.
The idea was that NTAC would be responsible for providing "technical assistance" to law enforcement request under RIPA, to do with data decryption etc. Some £40 million of public money was used initially to set up the scheme, which stated
Why GCHQ could not have done this in the first place, is, of course secret.
There was also talk of "black boxes" to connect Internet Service Providers to NTAC to allow for secret, supposedely lawful interceptions of communications - described at the time as "trying to drink from a fire hose", and nowadays an even more difficult problem due to the massive increase in bandwidth in even the last 6 or so years. The Government offered some paltry some of money to the telcos and ISPs to pay for all this extra interception equipment infrastructure.
Why this was not considered to be a duplication of GCHQ's existing infrastructure, remains secret.
All of the "RIPA section 49 Disclosure Notice" work has been moot, since RIPA Part III is still not in force (perhaps after Christmas even after 6 years.
What exactly has NTAC been doing over the years, and under what legal authority ?
Why was there no mention of the formal transfer in April, of NTAC to GCHQ, in the Intelligence and Security Committee's report published in June 2006, even though they comment on SOCA, which started formal operations on 1st April ?
If GCHQ is now deemed to be able to deal with any legal or technical or institutional problems which might be posed by " NTAC's remit, mandate or customer base", then this begs the question of why was NTAC ever set up as a separate entity in the first place ? Is this all some wasteful bureaucratic empire building fiasco ?
Will any Members of Parliament bother to ask what the implications are for the Regulation of Invesigatory Powers Act Part III Code of Practice, which they will be scrutinising, proabbly before Christmas, and this move of NTAC to GCHQ ?
There was no mention of this in the Home Office's Consultation Documents on RIPA Part III Code of Practice this summer. Some of the procedures outlined
in this document for the secure handling of Encryption Keys and disclosed plaintext, would be in conflict with GCHQ's standard security procedures.