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In the UK, Big Brother Recedes and Advances 176

Posted by kdawson
from the now-get-rid-of-the-damn-cameras dept.
PeterAitch writes "The UK government's Home Office has put a hold on their surveillance project to track details of everybody's email, mobile phone, text, and Web use after being warned of problems with privacy as well as technical feasibility and high costs." Four hours before the above Guardian story was filed, the BBC reported that the same Home Office insisted that it will push ahead with plans "to compel communication service providers to collect and retain records of communications from a wider range of internet sources, from social networks through to chatrooms and unorthodox methods, such as within online games."
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In the UK, Big Brother Recedes and Advances

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  • by lkcl (517947) <lkcl@lkcl.net> on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @06:28AM (#30043752) Homepage

    could someone please seriously enlighten me as to why the UK government believes this has a chance of succeeding?

    TalkTalk's director has already said unequivocably that TalkTalk will sue the UK Government if they proceed with policies like this, on the basis that presumably the TalkTalk director does not want to be put in jail for being ultimately responsible for implementing UK government policies that violate E.U and International Laws on privacy and human rights.

    Additionally, the UK's secret service has warned the UK government that raising people's awareness of attacks on their privacy simply raises their awareness of techniques to keep their conversations private, thus making the job of snooping on conversations that really *matter* just that much more difficult and costly.

    • by sakdoctor (1087155) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @06:42AM (#30043802) Homepage

      All right, people, I'm in charge now and we will find the terrorists. Jarvis, I want you to check for any terrorist chatter on AOL. Marley and Greggs, try searching for nuclear devices on askjeeves.com

      This is the level of sophistication we're dealing with. They might catch some really, really stupid criminals. Like the ones that put their bank robbery's on youtube.
      Now bearing in mind that they currently are looking at the connections between communicators, rather than the content of those communications; that's arguably even more dangerous, because it's like a giant fishing expedition combined with "guilty by association".

      • by Smegly (1607157) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @07:46AM (#30044080)

        This is the level of sophistication we're dealing with. They might catch some really, really stupid criminals. Like the ones that put their bank robbery's on youtube

        True. But yet again, the declared purpose of legislation like this and its true aim are not the same - it is never intended as a serious form of catching real "terrorist" of the strap on some dynamite and get on a bus kind. To maintain power and control you need your Thought Police [google.com]. The best weapon required is surveillance of the normal, general population - it allows the culture of fear [wikipedia.org] to be maintained, allowing the status quo to maintain power. [wikipedia.org]

        • by Xest (935314) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @09:38AM (#30044720)

          I don't think it's malice on behalf of the politicians. When you look at many prominent members of the Labour government you notice they're just not clever or intelligent people- Jacqui Smith, Hazel Blears, Harriet Harman, Keith Vaz, Peter Mandelson, Ed Balls and so on. I get the impression there's a few who are a bit more smart and are more malicious like David Miliband, but for the most part these people are a little dormant when it comes to their ability to think.

          These people really do believe they're doing it for our own good, that it's a valid solution and that it's the right thing to do. When people like Peter Mandelson can't even keep the fact he's corrupt to the core secret, having been caught red handed about 4 times now in the middle of dodgy backhand deals, and Hazel Blears apparently can't walk down the street without getting her shoe stuck in the pavement and looking like an idiot in front of the worlds media why would anyone believe these people would have the mental capacity to pull off a power grabbing plot?

          Of course you could still be right- it may not be the politicians, they could simply be puppets of those in the security services who are telling them what "needs" to be done which is plausible and probably more realistic. In general though the political problem is certainly one of incompetence rather than an inherent evil. The politicians almost certainly do believe these measures will really catch terrorists.

          • by commodore64_love (1445365) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @10:26AM (#30045200) Journal

            You make a good point. I was reading about Romania's dictator and his wife. He was not terribly bright, and his wife was a peasant who dropped-out of school in 4th grade. She used her power to force people to write research papers, and put her name on them, but she was dumb as a doorknob.

            It seems government attracts the not-so-bright to positions of power.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hal_Porter (817932)

        Actually they have caught people planning to blow up supermarkets who did discuss it over web email

        http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/panorama/6692741.stm [bbc.co.uk]

        TAYLOR: They then walked round the corner to Universal Video in Slough. Again, the spooks were on the case.

        CLARKE: What they did was look at an email account on which were images of devises, electronic components which formed part of remote detonation.

        Heroic British SIS officers, with a little help from the NSA were able to spy on the https connection to the web email service and also bug their car

        TAYLOR: Omar's friend then had a touch of the jitters.

        KUAJA: Bruv, just one thing, you don't think this place is bugged, do you?

        OMAR: Nar, I don't think it's bugged bruv, at all. I don't even think the car's bugged. I was saying to XXX what we talk about sometimes, what we're doing, what I'm doing, yeah, bruv, if they knew about it, they wouldn't wait a day bruv, they wouldn't wait one day to arrest me, yeah, or any of us.

        TAYLOR: At night, two days later, police specialists moved in to access to neutralise the threat.

        Plus they got tips from helpful members of the public

        ACCESS GIRL: [on telephone] Hi, is that the police?

        TAYLOR: But the spooks also needed something else, luck.

        ACCESS GIRL: We've got a suspicion about one of our customers.

        TAYLOR: And there was good reason for the call, and this was it, a huge bag stored in unit 1118. Now the staff at Access had got no idea what was inside, but the warning that said oxidising agent was more than enough to cause them concern. In fact, the bag contained 600 kilograms of ammonium nitrate fertiliser. That's around half a ton, and that's more than the IRA used to bomb canary wharf.

        Later that night specialists from the anti terrorist branch gained access to unit 1118, the lockup where the bag was stored. They needed to establish that the substance inside the bag was ammonium nitrate ? it was. Alarm bells rang. The spooks had been hearing details of a bomb plot and now they'd found the explosive needed to make it. The pieces of the jigsaw were beginning to come together.

        • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @08:48AM (#30044412) Journal

          See that's a perfect summary of why I haven't watched Panorama in ages. It's become more and more like the US style of hypermentary: Tell the audience what you're going to tell them. Tell them they should be afraid / excited / awestruck. Play some bass noise. Talk in a Really. Slow. Earnest. Voice. Tell them what you're telling them. Tell them what you've told them. End forty minutes of drawn out information.

          Honestly, I would prefer a nice tidy sequence of events and some more in-depth looks at the interesting parts. But I guess my aim is to get information and their target audience is those trying to fill their life with "entertainment". But I do miss being talked to like an intelligent human being.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by WarwickRyan (780794)

        Terry Gilliam made a really good documentry about:

        http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0088846/ [imdb.com]

    • by Canazza (1428553)

      The fact is, the Secret Service has spent time and effort keeping the populace blissfully ignorant of technology's pitfalls and it's backfired. The creme of those ignorami are now in government.

    • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @07:59AM (#30044148)
      What would happen if all of the major UK ISPs sued, or outright refused to implement this monitoring system? Would they be fined? Would the Gov. be able to get them to pay?

      Would cutting the UK off from the rest of the world for a day (in protest) be an effective demonstration of how costly this would be?
      • Good luck with that. All the ISPs simultaneously refusing to implement this? That sounds very unlikely to me, especially if the government just levels an "illegal collusion" charge of some kind. Cutting the UK off from the rest of the Internet? Again, fat chance -- it would cost too much money in lost trade opportunities and whatnot.
        • Illegal collusion? You're missing the point. How do the Gov. enforce a penalty for that, even? What length would the government go to? I have the feeling that a further day would have them backing down; That's two days of the LSE not trading.

          It's really not hard to imagine.
          • You are missing the point. What ISP is going to take the risk of having the government shut them down? The fear of losing their livelihood will keep them all in line; they are not providing Internet access because they think people should have it, they are providing it because it is a way to make money.
            • Exactly, and the government want to drastically reduce the amount of money they make by making them inspect, analyse, log, and archive every single identifying byte of information which comes over their pipes, voice or data. As long as someone is communicating with someone else, they want it logged. You don't think that will seriously infringe on the CEO's Bentley fund?

              Again, you've missed the point. The government can't afford to not have internet (and telephone) service, even for a day. The country canno
              • An ISP stands to lose a lot more money if it is shut down than if it pays for the equipment the UK government requires it to buy. As I said, they are afraid -- none of them wants to be the ISP that takes a stand and is shut down, even though they could all stand together and defeat this measure. None of them wants to be the ISP that is shut down for colluding with other ISPs to break the law. The government knows this, and knows that nobody will stand up to them.

                Nobody on the other side wants to try i
    • by Wowsers (1151731) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @08:24AM (#30044258) Journal

      The budget for the snooping programme was allocated years ago, about £1bn ($1.6bn US) was made public - it was a nice small sounding figure, nothing heard of the scheme again for years. NOW there is an election looming where everything from lying about immigration to the politicians expenses claims have been leaked, they are claiming that the scheme is dead in the water, when the truth is anything but.

      If the spies deny it, it is safe to assume they are lying to placate people
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8032367.stm [bbc.co.uk]

      The UK's electronic intelligence agency has taken the unusual step of issuing a statement to deny it will track all UK internet and online phone use.

      Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) said it was developing tracking technology but "only acts when it is necessary" and "does not spy at will".

      Known as Deep Packet Inspection equipment, these probes will "steal" the data, analyse and decode the information and then route it direct to a government-run database.

      Or http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article4882622.ece [timesonline.co.uk]

      Every call you make, every e-mail you send, every website you visit - I'll be watching you. That is the hope of Sir David Pepper who, as the director of GCHQ, the government's secret eavesdropping agency in Cheltenham, is plotting the biggest surveillance system ever created in Britain.

      The scope of the project - classified top secret - is said by officials to be so vast that it will dwarf the estimated £5 billion ministers have set aside for the identity cards programme. It is intended to fight terrorism and crime. Civil liberties groups, however, say it poses an unprecedented intrusion into ordinary citizens' lives.

      Aimed at placing a "live tap" on every electronic communication in Britain, it will dwarf other "big brother" surveillance projects such as the number plate recognition system and the spread of CCTV.

      I will say that the politicians here like to say "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear". Strangely they don't subscribe to this maxim when you are looking into their criminal expenses claims, or government documents that are deeply embarrassing to the current government that were claimed to not exist - but exist, they just didn't want to release them. The UK police don't like the rise of photo and video cameras showing their abuses of the law, so the current corrupt UK government passes a law where is it's crime to photo / record a police officer. http://www.bjp-online.com/public/showPage.html?page=839141 [bjp-online.com]

      • by Alioth (221270)

        The whole Terrorism Act itself is vile, if you care to read it: it does things like put the onus on the accused to prove they were NOT doing something to prepare for terrorism, and is overly broad - "anything that is likely to be of use to a terrorist" could mean anything. A bread roll could be useful in committing a terrorist act (after all, the terrorists need sustenence). Of course the government would argue "Oh, but it would NEVER be abused like that". How can they possibly guarantee that? How can they

        • by mpe (36238)
          How can they possibly guarantee some future government might not use 42 days without charge and overly broad terror laws to intimidate otherwise lawful opposition?

          It will be a suprise if this dosn't happen.

          Being held for 42 days without charge will, for many people - lead to ruin even if they are just let go at the end of it. In 42 days, many people will have lost their jobs, their homes, and now have a cloud of suspicion hanging over them.

          With the justification for this holding without charge making
  • More jobs! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Twinbee (767046) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @06:44AM (#30043812) Homepage

    This is good news, because it creates more jobs so that half the people in the UK can watch the other half all the time, and then they swap over every so often.

    No one will be without a job then, and we solve the terrorist problem in one shot!

    • by AndGodSed (968378) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @06:51AM (#30043842) Homepage Journal

      Dude you just used "UK", "terrorist", "jobs", "problem", "half the people in the UK" and "in one shot" in a slashdot post.

      You should've posted anonymously!

      If you are from the UK you are screwed bro...

  • by AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo @ w orld3.net> on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @06:47AM (#30043822) Homepage

    It is very hard to object to this kind of thing, because no-one is against catching criminals and terrorists if it makes us safer, right?

    The opposing arguments are hard to make because they rely on criticism of human nature and seemingly outlandish warnings of sleepwalking in to 1984. None the less, they must be made if we are to save ourselves.

    Everyone has things to hide, and everyone needs privacy. You don't expect your bank statement on the back of a post card, you expect it hidden inside an envelope. Surely though the police should be allowed to monitor everything? The problem is that the police are human beings too and there are endless examples of them abusing their power.

    My local MP (Sarah McArthy Fry) made the argument that internet surveillance had been used to prevent a suicide, and so was entirely justified. Harsh as it may seem, one life is not enough justification. If we banned cars we could save thousands of people from being killed or severely injured every year, but the bottom line is we consider the benefits of cars to outweigh those lives.

    There is no perfect system, but there must be a balance between privacy and limiting the powers of those in authority on the one hand and prevention of crime on the other.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      If we banned cars we could save thousands of people from being killed or severely injured every year,

      Wrong. You'd save many tens of thousands from being killed. Many hundreds of thousands would be save from injury: http://www.who.int/violence_injury_prevention/publications/road_traffic/world_report/en/ [who.int]

      • Everyone person will die from some cause at some time. The idea of "saving" lives is a childish delusion. The way to live freely is to accept the fact that people will die.

        Know one knows whether death, which people fear to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. -- Plato

    • by Aceticon (140883)

      The way to argument against it is actually to argument for more and deeper intrusions. Take the argument to it's most extreme logical conclusion. For example:

      My local MP (Sarah McArthy Fry) made the argument that internet surveillance had been used to prevent a suicide, and so was entirely justified.

      Easy counter argument: demand even more and deeper privacy intrusions.

      For example:
      "I completely agree with and applaud this action: human life should be cherished and protected at all costs.

      Also, lets not forget

      • Most citizens are too stupid to understand sarcasm. They would either believe you were being truthful about desiring in-home surveillance (and then vote against you), or are trying to insult their intelligence/acting arrogant (and vote against you).

    • by mpe (36238)
      It is very hard to object to this kind of thing, because no-one is against catching criminals and terrorists if it makes us safer, right?

      Only if you subscribe to the same false dichotomy as the advocates of such things. It's very questionable if mass snooping does much at all to help catch criminals. That's before even considering that criminals will, gain access to such data if it can be used in any way for criminal activities.

      Surely though the police should be allowed to monitor everything?

      No they n
  • They're going to have fun sifting through /Trade chat trying to work out if "Anal [Terror] LOL" is a secret code...

  • I talked to the government about this. The question I put to them was 'How?'.
    It's pretty easy to install a secure private network - with any form of transport to go over it including voip, mail, irc, what-have-you.
    It's a necessary feature of the internet.

    • Well, they could just pass a law that requires you to surrender your crypto keys on demand. There are not enough people in who would be willing to go to jail just to maintain their privacy.
      • by arethuza (737069)
        You do realise that the UK has such a law?
        • by Tony Hoyle (11698)

          Plus if the jailtime for not handing over your keys is less than the jailtime for what they'd find if they had them then yup I wouldn't hand them over.

        • by tomtomtom (580791)
          Interestingly though, contrary to GP's belief, it turns out that a large proportion of people served with such a notice refused to comply anyway. This might not have been a bad gamble, given the number of those subsequently prosecuted and convicted for doing so seems to be low. See here [parliament.uk] and here [parliament.uk], for example.
      • by mpe (36238)
        Well, they could just pass a law that requires you to surrender your crypto keys on demand. There are not enough people in who would be willing to go to jail just to maintain their privacy.

        There are plenty of ways of communicating covertly which do not involve encryption, let alone encryption using commodity computers.
    • by Alioth (221270)

      My mail server encrypts, indeed - many these days do. Debian's Postfix package uses opportunistic encryption by default. I've recently been contacted by an insurer who wants mandatory encryption between our mail server and theirs.

      The mail from the PC is encrypted to the outbound server. Then the mail from one MX is encrypted to the next, and the end user is using IMAP over SSL. It's going to make snooping email very difficult, especially as more and more MTAs have opportunistic encryption on by default, and

    • by mpe (36238)
      I talked to the government about this. The question I put to them was 'How?'. It's pretty easy to install a secure private network - with any form of transport to go over it including voip, mail, irc, what-have-you.

      It's not required for the "bad guys" to use "The Internet" in the first place or even to use it in the "expected way".
      Mass snooping is effectivly a "movie plot" approach. If the actual aim is to catch criminals then you need regular "detectives", if only to work out who and what needs spying on
  • New tag for British / Big Brother stories = AirStripOne.

  • Isn't there a problem besides the privacy concern here. That they're getting too much noise from creating a too indiscriminate collection of information, thereby shooting the signal-to-noise ratio through the roof? I understand if it looks good on paper from a security perspective, but what about a practical standpoint? To me, this feels more and more like something that is bad both from a privacy perspective and in practice.

    Besides, their analyzed tubes will sure get noisy as wireless connections keep gett

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Well, uh, as I understand it, the govt's have pretty substantial physical access at the telcos and ISP hubs. Rooms, in fact. It seems like it would take a big budget, yet be otherwise feasible for them to record _everything_ and dump it off. Later, using grid power and secret NSA hax, they can pick apart your encryption retroactively to get the details they need. If you were REALLY bothering them, they could then use that data to backdoor your box and read your DRIVE encryption. I'm sure they could proba
      • by Jugalator (259273)

        It seems like it would take a big budget, yet be otherwise feasible for them to record _everything_ and dump it off.

        Exactly my point. They'd have to sift through tons of information to find their needle in that haystack, since there's no way to deal with this kind of data in any form of structured and efficient way.

        If you were REALLY bothering them, they could then use that data to backdoor your box and read your DRIVE encryption. I'm sure they could probably have you on the list in under an hour.

        Lay off the CSI. ;-) You're talking of the same government who've failed far easier cases than these. Can you name one documented case where this happened (decryption of drives within hours) despite the common use among criminals?

    • by Xest (935314)

      Yes, amusingly the same day they backtracked on this, they also ruled that intercepted data does not have to be stored in an encrypted form.

      The whole thing is a fucking nightmare. The inland revenue service lost the personal details of 25 million people in the UK not so long ago, there have been hundreds more large scale (multi-million victim) data leaks since then and they expect us to now trust them to store all our personal contact data and suggest they don't even need to encrypt it?

      Labour government IT

    • by mpe (36238)
      That they're getting too much noise from creating a too indiscriminate collection of information, thereby shooting the signal-to-noise ratio through the roof?

      What's "signal" and what's "noise" depends very much on exactly who is looking at the data.

      I understand if it looks good on paper from a security perspective, but what about a practical standpoint? To me, this feels more and more like something that is bad both from a privacy perspective and in practice.

      Assuming the actual intent is better law en
  • by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @07:56AM (#30044130)
    The only people you'll catch with this are folks who have been baited, or don't know what's going on. Ever clicked on a TinyURL link and been presented with one of the "Unholy Trinity"? Well, all it takes is one prick to make it a link to a CP thread on 4Chan and *BAM* jail. Been sent an email from someone you don't recognise and Outlook auto previews an image in the same vein? *BAM* jail.

    Pretty soon, I'll be ensuring that anyone I chat to either uses some kind of end-to-end encryption, or I'll just pipe anything apart from iPlayer and WoW through a VPN out of the country. At least that way, if I ever am conned into viewing something HM Gov says I shouldn't, I won't end up on a register for it.
    • Of course this will also be one of the ways that the bad guys will be defending themselves with. Soak up all the processing bandwidth in chasing false trails and you can operate with impunity.

    • by makomk (752139)

      Certain shock images can also get you a jail sentence here in the UK (Goatse, for example). We have the tabloid press and anti-porn feminists to thank for that.

  • It appears the Guardian has just parsed the legislative process in a strange way to make it look like the Home Office has changed its position when it in fact hasn't.
  • by SharpFang (651121) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @08:05AM (#30044168) Homepage Journal

    Exceptions would be made for online banking and shopping using a dedicated system that can't be used for anything else.

    Using encryption for other purposes - even SSH to your work, or SSL login to your admin account on a web service would require special government certification and installing a dedicated monitoring software on the machine you're on. Otherwise, even posession of encryption software would land you in prison.

    Other than that - mandatory government-issued spyware?

    • by lkcl (517947)

      Exceptions would be made for online banking and shopping using a dedicated system that can't be used for anything else.

      which means that the truly hardened criminals will create an online shopping cart in order to commit crimes. (like they don't already... to whit: money-laundering)

      Other than that - mandatory government-issued spyware?

      what - like in china? that's working out well, for them, i understand.

      • You've clearly not seen the UK govt. recently. Working out well is not an objective of particular significance.
      • by mpe (36238)
        which means that the truly hardened criminals will create an online shopping cart in order to commit crimes. (like they don't already... to whit: money-laundering)

        More likely they'll be running the banks, oh wait...
  • after being warned of problems with privacy as well as technical feasibility and high costs

    "Being warned of problems with privacy?" Ya.... think?! That's either a nice way of saying that they bowed out of it due to public pressure or they are such blithering incompetents that it never occurred to them that this could harm anyone's privacy. Either way, the British need to wake TFU and bring this regime down. It's an embarrassment.

  • Two faced... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by chilvence (1210312)
    A normal society would completely reject the idea that it has to be continuously monitored for its own safety. If anything, this doublethink only weakens the UK. This is exactly the same thing that we openly criticise in other countries, only carefully differentiated so that the blanket definition doesn't stick. It's like saying 'our secret police are less secret and oppressive than everyone else's, so it doesn't count'. So is it right or isn't it? In this weakened state of mind where we don't know ourselv

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