This Tuesday 6th January 2009, there were some vague comments from Johnathan Evans, the Director General of MI5 the Security Service, regarding Communications Traffic Data snooping - embarrassingly, the mainstream media who were invited to the MI5 press briefing did not bother to ask any searching or detailed questions:
- "Opening up, but not lifting the lid" (The Guardian, 7 January 2009)
- "'We've got the terror gangs in check', says casually-dressed MI5 head in first-ever interview" (Daily Mail, 7 January 2009)
- "Terror trials 'reduce threat to UK'" (Daily Mirror, 7 January 2009)
- "We're foiling terrorists - but threat remains" (The Sun, 7 January 2009)
- "MI5 chief warns of threat from global recession" (Daily Telegraph, 7 January 2009)
- "MI5's spymaster Jonathan Evans comes out of the shadows" (The Times, 7 January 2009)
N.B. the above media coverage links are on the Mi5 Security Service website. They certainly appear to be measuring the newspaper column inches which they themselves generate i.e. doing media monitoring / spin, even though they allegedly do not have a Press Office, supposedly leaving that to the Home Office. The Home Office has a supposedly specialist Press website, which is never up to date, especially at weekends, and whose Press Releases do not seem to include many of the stories which Home Office spokesmen seem to feed to the press.
On Friday there was some confusing reporting by the BBC (radio, tv and web) , conflating the European Union Communications Data Retention with the still as yet unclear Interception Modernisation Programme plans to update GCHQ's infrastructure, and the even vaguer political kite flying by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith for a secret centralised data trawling database, which may or may not appear in the promised Communications Data Bill.
See The Register - Confusion reigns ahead of comms überdatabase debate.
See also our previous analysis of the EU Data Retention scheme coming into force this March, extending the existing data retention from telephones and mobile phones, to some aspects of internet connections and undefined "internet telephony" - Communications Data Retention - internet access, internet e-mail and internet telephony
Also on Friday, In contrast with his predecessor's remarks, (see Sir Ken Macdonald, former Director of Public Prosecutions: "This database would be an unimaginable hell-house of personal private information"). the current Director of Public Prosecutions Kier Starmer, seems to be a bit evasive on this topic:
• Controversial plan gets backing from new head of CPS
• Invasion of privacy must have purpose, he says
Legal affairs correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Friday 9 January 2009 17.11 GMT
In his first public briefing since taking over as DPP in November last year, Keir Starmer QC
Despite The Guardian's headline, Starmer's quoted remarks do not clearly say, one way or the other, if he accepts or rejects the exisiting alleged checks and balances of the current snooping systems, by the almost powerless RIPA Commissioners, who do not investigate individual cases of abuse, and only publish a summarised, censored, Annual Report (which, scandalously, this Government often manages to delay publication of , in contravention of its own Act of Parliament).
The same will be true of the National Identity Scheme Commissioner, and the even more so of the Home Office appointees who, without any power or budget, are somehow meant to keep keep the Criminal Records Bureau and the National DNA Database trustworthy in the minds of the public.
The Information Commissioner, despite having some limited power of criminal prosecution (only ever exercised in about a dozen court cases a year) is equally ineffective, due to budget constraints, a lack of in house technical expertise and a willingness to be trumped by any mention of the vague, catch all exemptions invoked by the words "national security" or "for the prevention, detection or prosecution of crime".
In our view, Kier Starmer's "effective safeguards" simply do not exist in practice right now, and what does exists, will be further weakened by the disproportionate new secret data trawling and snooping national databases which Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and her co-conspirators are planning to inflict on us all.