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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 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 AmiMoJo (196126) <mojo@world3AAA.net minus threevowels> 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.

  • by arethuza (737069) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @07:23AM (#30043978)
    The only possible explanation that I can think of is based on simply following the money - who expects to gain from this? Simple: the big IT service vendors that have been getting a stream of huge IT projects from the public sector. Our politicians are a fairly gullible lot and typically have no experience of being given the hard sell before they get into office - no wonder the poor fools fall for it when the nice man in the expensive suit offers to solve their problems on a time and materials basis. Now that they have sucked the public purse dry they need fresh victims and they don't want willing customers so they need their friends in power to inflict massive IT projects on the private sector.
  • 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 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.
  • 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?
  • 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 Hal_Porter (817932) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @08:19AM (#30044234)

    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 Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @09:32AM (#30044672)

    That is why the concept of environmental nazi makes so much sense.

  • 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 locallyunscene (1000523) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @11:23AM (#30045886)
    This view is only possible if you look at all gov't policy as being on a single line Left----------Right .

    It makes more sense, IMHO, if you separate economic policy from social policy so you have a Cartesian co-ordinate system instead.
  • Re:How? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tomtomtom (580791) on Tuesday November 10, 2009 @08:37PM (#30054068)

    Hmm. There are a standard set of laws which are thrown at people where there's no evidence of a real crime. Immigration charges seem to top the list - merely being arrested effectively invalidates certain types of UK residence visa from what I can gather. "Banned books" laws are another in terrorism-type cases. For political protesters, when they aren't arrested using the terrorism laws, the laws against intimidation and harassment get well-used ("the fact that they disagree with me intimidates me!"). New Labour seems to have had a real fetish for these catch-all laws. The worst in the class is the ASBO - a device that they even admitted was designed to side-step those pesky "innocent until proven guilty" and "right to a fair trial" things and make convictions on the basis of the police's say-so.

    I wouldn't be at all surprised if this law joins those ranks.

    When the first case comes up (as it eventually surely will) where these powers are used to attempt to force a journalist to reveal his sources (I can think of a scenario very similar to the Damian Green affair), we'll know for sure how much of a chilling effect it's really had. I suspect that, overall, the law is still a Very Bad Thing.

All the evidence concerning the universe has not yet been collected, so there's still hope.

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