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Plan to monitor all internet use

By Dominic Casciani

BBC News home affairs reporter



Communications firms are being asked to record all internet contacts between people as part of a modernisation in UK police surveillance tactics.


The home secretary scrapped plans for a database but wants details to be held and organised for security services.


The new system would track all e-mails, phone calls and internet use, including visits to social network sites.


The Tories said the Home Office had "buckled under Conservative pressure" in deciding against a giant database.


Announcing a consultation on a new strategy for communications data and its use in law enforcement, Jacqui Smith said there would be no single government-run database.


But she also said that "doing nothing" in the face of a communications revolution was not an option.


The Home Office will instead ask communications companies - from internet service providers to mobile phone networks - to extend the range of information they currently hold on their subscribers and organise it so that it can be better used by the police, MI5 and other public bodies investigating crime and terrorism.


Ministers say they estimate the project will cost £2bn to set up, which includes some compensation to the communications industry for the work it may be asked to do.


"Communications data is an essential tool for law enforcement agencies to track murderers, paedophiles, save lives and tackle crime," Ms Smith said.


"Advances in communications mean that there are ever more sophisticated ways to communicate and we need to ensure that we keep up with the technology being used by those who seek to do us harm.


"It is essential that the police and other crime fighting agencies have the tools they need to do their job, However to be clear, there are absolutely no plans for a single central store."


'Contact not content'


Communication service providers (CSPs) will be asked to record internet contacts between people, but not the content, similar to the existing arrangements to log telephone contacts.


But, recognising that the internet has changed the way people talk, the CSPs will also be asked to record some third party data or information partly based overseas, such as visits to an online chatroom and social network sites like Facebook or Twitter.


Security services could then seek to examine this data along with information which links it to specific devices, such as a mobile phone, home computer or other device, as part of investigations into criminal suspects.


The plan expands a voluntary arrangement under which CSPs allow security services to access some data which they already hold.


The security services already deploy advanced techniques to monitor telephone conversations or intercept other communications, but this is not used in criminal trials.


Ms Smith said that while the new system could record a visit to a social network, it would not record personal and private information such as photos or messages posted to a page.


"What we are talking about is who is at one end [of a communication] and who is at the other - and how they are communicating," she said.


Existing legal safeguards under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act would continue to apply. Requests to see the data would require top level authorisation within a public body such as a police force. The Home Office is running a separate consultation on limiting the number of public authorities that can access sensitive information or carry out covert surveillance.




Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: "I am pleased that the Government has climbed down from the Big Brother plan for a centralised database of all our emails and phone calls.


"However, any legislation that requires individual communications providers to keep data on who called whom and when will need strong safeguards on access.


"It is simply not that easy to separate the bare details of a call from its content. What if a leading business person is ringing Alcoholics Anonymous, or a politician's partner is arranging to hire a porn video?


"There has to be a careful balance between investigative powers and the right to privacy."


Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: "The big problem is that the government has built a culture of surveillance which goes far beyond counter terrorism and serious crime. Too many parts of Government have too many powers to snoop on innocent people and that's really got to change.


"It is good that the home secretary appears to have listened to Conservative warnings about big brother databases. Now that she has finally admitted that the public don't want their details held by the State in one place, perhaps she will look at other areas in which the Government is trying to do precisely that."


Guy Herbert of campaign group NO2ID said: "Just a week after the home secretary announced a public consultation on some trivial trimming of local authority surveillance, we have this: a proposal for powers more intrusive than any police state in history.


"Ministers are making a distinction between content and communications data into sound-bite of the year. But it is spurious.


"Officials from dozens of departments and quangos could know what you read online, and who all your friends are, who you emailed, when, and where you were when you did so - all without a warrant."


The consultation runs until 20 July 2009.

Source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8020039.stm


Love the dig from Chris Huhne. :D

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This government just keeps getting better & better at finding new and imaginative ways to screw with civil liberties.  This new proposal is about as shady as it comes and there are some other issues surrounding this legislation that scream corruption. 


Currently what's being proposed is illegal under the (already pathetically weak) Data Protection Act so they'd have to amend that.  Additionally, what they're really asking for is a Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) system for all UK ISPs where they'll be able to track what you're doing, when and with whom online.  There are a few companies who have been pushing ISPs to implement DPI for a while now under the guise of it being a revenue source via advertising, they analyse your online trends and serve up advertising on all your traffic, not just Google's cookie based tracking that can only create trends based on visits to participating sites.


The most prominent of these DPI companies is Phorm who have trialled their software with BT.  Those trials are already the subject of an EU investigation into the way the government ignored both the Data Protection Act and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to allow Phorm's trials.  BT & Phorm didn't obtain their customer's permission to track their web surfing habits and since they essentially performed an illegal communications trace.  Quite why the government didn't slap BT and Phorm from here to next year wasn't too apparent, they had more than enough evidence to prove wrongdoing.


That's when the corruption comes in.


The Home Office has been accused of colluding with online ad firm Phorm on "informal guidance" to the public on whether the company's service is legal.


E-mails between the ministry and Phorm show the department asking if the firm would be "comforted" by its position.


The messages show Phorm making changes to the guidance sought by the ministry.


If UK ISPs had to implement DPI tracking systems which company would be best placed to provide that structure?  Phorm.


All of the new legislation looks like it's a way for the government to let Phorm and their contemporaries off the hook and throw them a bit of cash.  I'd expect a non-executive directorship to appear for a Jacqui Smith in the next couple of years (a bit like Patricia Hewitt already has with BT).


There's some excellent reporting of the Phorm saga at The Register.


There's also a lot of grumbling coming from the ISPs.  Currently if you access something illegal over the internet the ISP can hold their hands up and say "we're only a communication carrier" they have little responsibility if you're doing something illegal on their network.  However, if they start tracking what you're doing online, what you're looking at or listening to and they see that you're breaking the law (an image you're downloading matches known child porn or that torrent you're downloading matches a file known to be under copyright, etc.) if the ISP then fails to report you for breaking the law they become an accessory to the crime.  With legislated DPI the ISPs would end up becoming the police of the internet whether they want to or not.

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'1984' here we come. I can't believe the stuff this Labour government pushes through. Labour's vision for the future of Britain seems to be based on one of those dystopian sci-fi films.




“No government of any colour is to be trusted with such a roadmap to our souls”:

Ken McDonald, former head of the CPS.


The government has unveiled plans for a private company to run a “superdatabase” that will track all our emails, calls, texts, internet use and so on. This is an immense infringement of civil liberties, not to mention a major risk to our private data - but it won’t make us any safer. The sheer amount of information that the Government intends to collect will be impossible to analyse properly and will undoubtedly turn up false positives while missing potential security threats amongst the morass of spam emails and private chat.


So, for one day, we should send a message to the Home Office - “you want to see our emails? Ok then, here they are then!”. We do this by simply cc’ing or bcc’ing every email we send (and if you like, forwarding every email you receive), regardless of importance or content, to [email protected]



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