The anonymous media briefings ahead of next month's Queen's Speech are continuing today, lead by the Sunday Times and followed by the Press Association, with broadcasters like the BBC joining in, second hand.
The Sunday Times has published a rather meagre front page article on the Coalition government's revival of Labour's All Your Internet Are Belong To Us snooping plans:
Sunday 1st April 2012
Government to snoop on all emails
David Cracknell used to have several "anonymous" sources within Government and was briefed "off the record" by Whitehall spin doctors
Is the poor quality of this article the result of the anti-Murdoch press "cover your own backsides" attitude which now prevails in Whitehall , following the "phone hacking" / corruption scandals which closed the News of the World and which are tainting even the Sunday Times ?
The government is to expand hugely its powers to monitor email exchanges and website visits of every person in Britain.
Under plans expected to be announced in the Queen's speech next month, internet companies will be told to install thousands of pieces of hardware to allow GCHQ, the government's eavesdropping centre, to scrutinise "on demand" every phone call made, text message and email sent and website accessed in real time.
They already have this legal power which does not require any sort of judicial warrant, under the notorious Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. All that GCHQ needs is a "catch all" Warrant or Certificate signed by a Secretary of State i.e. normally, in their case, the Foreign Secretary William Hague.
This introduced the legal power to install "black box" snooping hardware at the major Telecommunications companies and Internet Service Providers, overseen by the Technical Advisory Board.
The amount of money the the Labour government was willing to pay for this snooping infrastructure was a paltry sum, which is why it took so long for any agreement with the ISPs. N.B. the interests and priorities of ISPs and Telecomms companies are not the same as those of their customers.
The volume of internet data flowing today is orders of magnitude more than that envisaged back in 2000, so If the new plan is to really going to install "thousands of pieces of hardware", then this plan will cost billions of pounds.
An effort by Labour to introduce a similar law was shelved in 2006 after fierce opposition from the Tories, Liberal Democrats and privacy campaigners.
The useless Jacqui Smith threatened us with a Communications Data Bill, but that was in 2009, not 2006
While the new law would not allow GCHQ to monitor the content of communications without obtaining a warrant, it would permit the intelligence agency to trace whom a person or group had contacted, when, for how long and how often.
That is no different from the existing RIPA law then
Members of the Internet Service Providers' Association, which represents more than 200 businesses including BT, Virgin Media and Google, were given some details of the proposals last month and were alarmed by what they were told.
So why does this Sunday Times article not mention the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP), which is what the ISPs were briefing other journalists on last month ?
A senior industry official said: "It's mass surveillance.
The idea is that the network operator should effectively intercept the
communications between, say, Google and some third party
"the network operators are going to be asked to put probes in the network and they are upset about the idea ... It's expensive, it's intrusive to your own customers, it's very difficult to see it's going to work properly and it's going to be a nightmare to run legally."
The association said: "It is important that proposals to update government's capabilities to intercept and retain communications data... are proportionate, respect freedom of expression and the privacy of users."
Why doesn't the Sunday Times name the "senior industry official" or even the "Internet Service Providers' Association" spokesman ?
Under the current law, companies must keep records for some traditional types of phone and electronic communication for a year.
Hold on, the European Union Data Retention regulations e.g.
are about forcing ISPs and Landline and Mobile Phone companies to keep Communications Data unnecessarily, which they would otherwise have been obliged to delete under the Data Protection Act, since they themselves no longer have any legitimate use for it, especially if the internet or mobile phone bills have been pre-paid. Data Retention is not about access to such retained data.
The new legislation would extend this provision to cover a much wider field, including social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter and online video games.
Perhaps the Sunday Times is actually writing about CCDP then.
N.B. CCDP is not not just a GCHQ project (which has its own "Mastering the Internet" investment programme) but is being "coordinated" by the technologically inept Home Office.
It is not physically possible to get Communications Traffic Data form foreign based social media websites like FaceBook or Twitter without actually using techniques such as Deep Packet Inspection and perhaps even Man-In-The-Middle Attack SSL / proxies i.e. it requires actual Interception of the Content of these websites to do this.
The only countries which attempt to do this at the moment are repressive regimes like Iran, China, Saudi Arabia etc.
Dominic Raab, a Tory MP who has campaigned for civil liberties, said: "If over-zealous officials are trying to resuscitate Labour's flawed paln for 'big brother' monitoring, ministers need to nip this in the bud."
MI5 and GCHQ have been lobbying hard for the wider powers which, they believe, are a crucial tool to combat terrorism and serious crime.
Serious Crime is not within the remit of either GCHQ or MI5
The Police cannot cope properly with the vast amount of data they already gather, so why will "searching for a needle in a haystack, by throwing in several more haystacks", be cost effective ?
There is no evidence that holding 6 month or 1 year old Communications Data of hundreds of millions of innocent people in the European Union, has been of any use in catching criminals or terrorists. Where it has been of use, e.g. in the recent Toulouse serial killer / extremist case, the Communications Data has been very recent and the searches have been narrowly targeted to a suspects known phones or email addresses or to a victim's web advert etc.
At present GCHQ can use probes to monitor the content of calls and emails sent by specific individuals who are the subject of police or security service investigation, provided it has ministerial approval.
For "ministerial approval" read "ministerial or senior official rubber stamp"
There should actually be independent Judicial warrants for such intrusive interception surveillance, not rubber stamping by politicians.
The Home Office said it would introduce new legislation "as soon as parliamentary time allow" but stressed that the data to be monitored would not include content.
Why does the Sunday Times not name this anonymous Home Office spokesman ?
Which part of the phrase "Deep Packet Inspection = Interception of Content" does the Home Office not understand ?
Have all the civil servants and SPADs who embarrassed themselves and the Home Office over the BT / Phorm scandal now been promoted to other jobs, leaving their inexperienced "generalist" replacements to magically formulate "policy" without any technical experience or knowledge ?
Incredibly this article does not really mention Mobile Phones and especially Mobile Phone Location Data.
This, like other forms of Communications Data is available via automated gateway computer systems to authorised Police and Intelligence Agency investigators, but it is meant to be narrowly targeted and proportionate, under a combination of the Regulation of Investgatory Powers Act 2000 (which permits such agencies to make such requests) and the Data Protection Act 1998 (which exempts the Telcos and Mobile Phone Networks and ISPs from prosecution for handing such data over to them)
Is this Sunday Times article, a high quality briefing / leak by Whitehall mandarins ?
Is it safe to interpret the omissions like Soviet era Kremlinologists, and read between the lines that some of the previously evil plans which have been touted, have been watered down ?
Our opinion is that no, this is a flawed article, which has either had many important details removed by the editors for front page space reasons, or which is being deliberately deceitful by omission.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case with today's "news" industry, this article has been re-published by , for example, the Press Association, with even fewer important technical and legal details:
Sunday 01 April 2012
The Home Office confirmed that ministers were intending to legislate "as soon as parliamentary time allows".
"It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public. We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes," a spokesman said.
Why does the Independent not name this anonymous "spokesman" ?
"Communications data includes time, duration and dialling numbers of a phone call, or an email address. It does not include the content of any phone call or email and it is not the intention of Government to make changes to the existing legal basis for the interception of communications."
Note the (deliberate ?) omission of Mobile Phone Location Data in this alleged definition of Communications Data. This does not include Tweets or Facebook "likes" , which do require interception of the content of a web browsing session (also deliberately not mentioned ?)
David Davis, one of the few Conservative MPs who stood up for civil liberties when in opposition to Labour, has rightly criticised this plan in this BBC video clip, in which he does mention some of the things omitted by the Sunday Times:
However, we are not sure where the "retention for 2 years" comes from and despite the mention of "magistrates and courts", none of that has applied since 2000 - the only "warrants" are those rubber stamped by politicians or officials for Interception, and "self authorised" requests by the Police and Intelligence Agencies. There is no involvement of independent Judges or Magistrates at all in the UK, with either electronic (or postal) communications Interception or with Communications Data or with Intrusive Surveillance (planting of bugging or tracking devices, use of Confidential Human Intelligence Source informants etc.)