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Ten key facts about the new snooping bill


9:02 am - April 3rd 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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1. Right now, a magistrate has to approve each request for communication records to be turned over to the police. The new proposals could allow GCHQ to see all traffic instantly.

2. Some of the technicalities are unclear. Determined people could still evade detection by using proxy servers or other security technology. And how exactly would they monitor and listen to Skype calls? We’re not told yet.

3. The new bill would give the authorities the right to know who you have been talking to on Facebook, and when.

4. The Home Office estimated that such a programme would cost taxpayers around £2billion over the first decade. And that’s based on 2009 prices – the cost could be higher now. This is because it would force ISPs to store hundreds of millions of pieces of data for up to two years. [source]

5. Right now, companies don’t always have to comply with government requests for data. For example, Google complies fully or partially with just 63% of government requests, according to its own figures. this new legislation will remove the right of ISPs to contest requests for data.

6. The Information Commissioner said the case had “not been made” to justify the sweeping expansion in the power of the police and other public bodies to trawl through private communications, including visits to Facebook and eBay. [source]

7. It contradicts the Libdem Manifesto, which says: “Instead of collecting information about every person in this country’s internet use, we believe that an alternative approach, based on targeting, warrants from law enforcements agencies and other safeguards is a better approach.”

8. Nick Clegg says: “I am totally opposed, totally opposed to the idea of Governments reading people’s emails at will or creating a totally new central Government database.” – but this is a copout. It still means that everyone’s data will be monitored and stored, but in several databases across many companies.

9. Privacy International says the internal briefing document used by Libdems, “contains significant evasions and distortions about the proposed ‘Communications Capabilities Development Programme’ (CCDP), and is clearly intended to persuade unconvinced Lib Dem MPs to vote in favour of the proposal.”

10. The Bill could be announced as early as the Queen’s Speech in May.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Hi Sunny,

While I agree with the majority of your 10 points there are 3 which I think need clarifying:

On point 2 – Skype calls would not be listened as that’s content. What would be logged is your connection to the Skype service and who you called

On point 3 – The authorities already have that right with a warrant, this legislation simply removes that as you’ve stated in point 1

On point 5 – Companies always have to comply with a valid request, the 27% of times that Google hasn’t complied they will have done so with legal backing

1. What makes you think GCHQ/MI5 are not reading all communications right now?
2. Skype security is known to be crap. Proxy servers: how do you know that they aren’t honey-pots? And anyway, your packets have to get to a proxy server, GCHQ/MI5 could just get the info from the routers that send your packets to the proxy server.
3. You do know that facebook is part funded by the CIA?
4. Funding for “security” projects is never transparent.
5. see below
6. GCHQ can read packets off the internet and piece together requests/responses. They don’t need to go to the source (Facebook/eBay). However, to make evidence admissible, they will need to go to the source.
7. LibDems are human shields, do we need to say any more?
8. ditto
9. ditto
10. If so, I am not sure why the details have leaked out now?

More on #2 In 2007 a researcher added an entrypoint server to TOR and harvested loads of passwords from embassies who thought that TOR added some kind of “security”. So don’t assume that proxy servers will help you in any way at all.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/09/10/misuse_of_tor_led_to_embassy_password_breach/

5. This is the only thing that worries me. ISPs will act as part of the State when it comes to snooping. But on the other hand, the Digital Britain policy of the last government did that for “copyright” issues too.

I think it is very naive to think that this policy will “start snooping”. GCHQ/MI5 already do it. The policy is merely to make what they do legitimate and to allow the data they collect to be admissible in court.

3. Leon Wolfeson

2. Skype calls are accessible to law enforcement. This is known.
4. And basically all of it is certain to be passed directly on to ISP’s customers. The margins are too low in the sector for anything else.

From a technical point of view these proposals are going to really easy to work around by anyone with even a bit of computer knowledge. I setup a VPN or SSH connection or even https to something outside the UK and I could be chatting away like crazy and there would be nothing that an ISP could log other than I connected to a server abroad somewhere. What about the multitude of chat room software thats available to run on any webserver add in SSL and again there is nothing you could log. How are they going to proceed with decentralized systems such as irc ? Sounds like its yet another badly worded, bad thought out technology related bill without asking anyone in the technical world is this possible and if so HOW much will it cost?

5. ex-Labour voter

Here’s the e-mail address for the Home Office. So, please, get writing.

public.enquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

P.S. After looking at a crystal ball, I predict another sell-out from NIck Clegg.

6. OnlineMark

This bill is pointless. The tech industry will make it easier for everybody to encrypt all emails thus rendering “email snooping” a waste of time.

Does anyone know how this can affect US companies? Can’t Google, Facebook and Skype just say that their not British so British law doesn’t apply to them? If a US company has all their business in the US, can a British customer’s data still be obtained by UK police? If a dictatorial regime passes laws on what info must be made avaliable to security services, do companies have a choice or contest this?

I remember reading of a request sent to The Pirate Bay by US law enforcement, their response was to point out that Sweden isn’t an American state therefore US law didn’t apply. Would be nice if similar letters were sent to our government.

The law is complicated in this area as a lot of it will depend on where the kit is. A lot of the proposals so far talked about little boxes in all ISPs but for facebook/twitter and most social networks in general unless the ISPs are breaking the secure connection then black boxes in the ISP cannot help. Given that most of the big companies will have an office in the UK its a way to put pressure on them “to do what we want”. Ridiculously easy to get around though if you are only a little bit techy savvy!

9. Shatterface

Facebook Timeline has pretty much made all this redundant.

jimmy @7, as I understand the proposal, it is the ISP that will be required to retain data and make it available to the authorities, not companies like Facebook or Google. In this sense, the likes of Facebook and Google won’t have any say – data going to and from Google or Facebook from a BT customer (for example) will be made available to the authorities by BT.

A question I have is what exactly will the security forces be looking at? Anything they like? Can they just spy on anyone they want to? Like the ”direct action” eco protesters or animal rights people and assorted anarchists and leftists?

Or even bigger mainstream political parties in Scotland and Northern Ireland?
Sinn Fein might need spying on in their minds. Will they be free to do so?

Also, will it be used as a way of fighting general crime? Drug dealers. Even people visiting porn sites? If you want to bring someone down you could just watch their online activity. Everyone has a couple of secrets (don’t they?)

@onlineMark – email encryption by itself would not get around the proposed plans. The CCDP is intended to record the fact that person A sent an email to person B at a particular time and from a particular location.

Encrypting an email only hides the content, it does not hide it’s existence or the identity of the senders or the time it was sent.

Similarily using web proxies or onion routing only hides the final destination of your visit, it will still show that you have accessed a particular proxy service and the user will then be asked to justify their use of such a service. That might not sound like a massive problem but it will be used to establish a pattern of behaviour.

The bill is terrible news.

Anyone thinking they can hide behind cryptography needs to be aware that in the UK it is a criminal offence under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) not to surrender the password to an encrypted file if the police request it.

For more information about the dangers of tor mentioned by Richard Blogger above, I wrote this a while back: http://beyondclicktivism.com/2011/02/14/online-idiocy-kills/

Interesting fact: left-wing bloggers are going to be against it no matter what the content of the legislation.

@Tim VPN,SSH and SSL dont use any user encryption passwords. Preshared keys and certificates are only used to identify the remote ends. All the government could say is you had an SSH connection open to this machine in Turkey frequently, can you explain that? At which point you say its none of their business, lack of an explanation isnt the same as admitting guilt.

16. Shatterface

At which point you say its none of their business, lack of an explanation isnt the same as admitting guilt.

Since 1994, it is – or at least that inference can be made.

@Wyatt 14
And I’m sure all the right wing bloggers were against it when Labour wanted to do it when in government – back then our coalition parties were all about civil liberties. This is one issue where a politician’s views depend on whether they are in government or in opposition, if you view it as a party or left/right issue then you’re going to be deceived.

@15. Jonkarra

IANAL but I am fairly certain that the same powers used to make you hand over your passwords can be used to make you hand over the passphrase for a secure session (whether that’s using VPN,SSH and SSL)

As @16. Shatterface says the whole point about RIPA is that it creates a presumption of guilt.

You can be jailed for refusing to supply a password on the request of the police.

As far as I know this has only been used once so far: the case involved a young man, Oliver Drage, who was sentenced to 16 weeks in a young offenders institution in October 2010.

A quick google search shows that he was not the only one.

The Register has a piece from November 2009 about a “schizophrenic science hobbyist with no previous criminal record” jailed for nine months for refusing to hand over his passwords:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/11/24/ripa_jfl/

There may well be others.

20. Charlieman

@4. Jonkarra: “From a technical point of view these proposals are going to really easy to work around by anyone with even a bit of computer knowledge. I setup a VPN or SSH connection or even https to something outside the UK and I could be chatting away like crazy and there would be nothing that an ISP could log other than I connected to a server abroad somewhere.”

A couple of days ago, I processed half a dozen RIPA requests submitted by a UK police force. They had a date, time and IP address and wanted to know the location of the IP address and the username. That is what they are entitled to ask under RIPA and that is what they got.

I didn’t do any further probing (for obvious privacy reasons) so I don’t know whether the individual was using any form of encryption for the applications that they were using. But clearly the requestors already knew (to the exact second) when IP address X was communicating with a IP address Y. Perhaps they seized a box and had access to the logs on it, or maybe they were monitoring traffic to a particular destination.

So I am unsure what this Bill provides beyond RIPA. It may demand the retention of logs for a specific period, imposing a cost on internet users. One of the dangers that I perceive is that the quality of log data (of the type that is captured for business purposes) degrades with time. If an ISP or company has 200,000 customers/users, IP addresses are being reallocated all of the time and customers hop between ISPs. ISPs/companies buy and sell blocks of IPv4 address space because it is a fixed volume asset. Companies merge. I presume that this Bill intends that ISPs/companies create separate IP usage databases which is a significant cost. If the presumption is that information retrieved from two year old system logs is adequate, there are going to be an awful lot of miscarriages of justice. Even dedicated databases are going to hold a lot of inaccurate data.

@17 jimmy

I’m sure they were, I’m merely referring to the left-wing bloggers now (as I’m assuming the right-wingers aren’t complaining since it’s “their” party doing it.)

The problem I have with articles like this is they’re trying to find flaws in the legislation because of their pre-conceived idea that it’s going to be bad. I have no problem with the government setting this up if it’s safeguarded properly and the cost of setting up such a system is in proportion to the benefit.

If you don’t first explain why you think the government looking up the online activity of suspects is a bad thing, most of the ‘facts’ in the article are fairly meaningless.

22. OnlineMark

@12 David Tuck.

An email address isn’t tied to a particular person so I’m not sure how this is relevant.
Also if you were to use an internet cafe or any free WiFi service then the IP address cannot be tied to you or your device so it doesn’t matter if a use a proxy server or not.

As I said this bill is useless. Anybody who wants to commit a crime and uses the internet as a means of communication will continue to do so with or without the legislation in this bill.

This is not to say that I agree with the intention of this bill. I think it is abhorrent that any Government effectively wants to track the communications pattern of its citizens. Do the monitor all letters and postcards that are sent through the postal system?

Wyatt,

If you don’t first explain why you think the government looking up the online activity of suspects is a bad thing, most of the ‘facts’ in the article are fairly meaningless.

Monitoring suspects isn’t a bad thing. The proposal is to monitor everyone.

@ 21 Wyatt,

“If you don’t first explain why you think the government looking up the online activity of suspects is a bad thing, most of the ‘facts’ in the article are fairly meaningless.”

I suggest that would be a waste of time. It’s clear as day to a large number of people why this idea stinks. If you fall outside that group, I doubt that a few points from someone here can win you over. You may be happy to have your privacy violated in such an egregious way, with no superintendence. You may also be ignorant of the many gross blunders that the state has made with the data they store on us all, and that is before we get to deliberate malfeasance. You may also be unable to think of better things to spend however many billions this thing will clock up. Indeed, you may care nothing also of the fact that both coalition parties denounced this very thing when in opposition. I could continue.

The task at hand is to bring together those of us who understand the danger of even more police state bollocks, who come from differing opinions on the political spectrum, but hopefully can put other matter aside, to deliver a collective kick to the government’s scrotum in this matter. Those of the ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ persuasion can do what they always do. F*** all. It may not bother you if you’re liberties are stolen from you, that’s your business.

25. Leon Wolfeson

@20 – Exactly – It’s basically that RIPA information. For everyone. In a huge database. RIPA at least in theory has checks and balances…this is going to be open to a vast amount of access and abuse.

And it’s going to cause a massive spike in prices for internet access, too.

@13 – At which point I take thousands of pounds in damages for the breach, yes. I would of course comply – but keeping the data encrypted in the first place with this kind of unlimited snooping going on is a requirement of the contract.

As I said, a pain in the ass.

26. theo basma-lord

The people who approve this bill are the people that thought George Orwell’s 1984 had a happy ending.


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