Communications Snooping

 Big Brother Extremism

22nd November

Update: The Evil that Politicians Do...

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Database Monstrosity Going Ahead Anyway

Jack & Jacqui
Jack: Good one will be
able to monitor everyone calling you
cerebrally challenged

The timetable for setting up a giant Big Brother database is slipping after the scheme was dropped from next month's Queen's Speech.

The Independent has highlighted growing fury over government moves to collate details of every telephone call, email and internet visit.

Whitehall sources confirmed last night that the plans would not be included in the Queen's Speech on 3 December, in which the Government outlines its legislative programme for the next parliamentary year. Insisting they were committed to the scheme as a tool in the fight against crime and terrorism, they said a consultation paper early next year would set out options for collecting the information.

But there is no firm indication when the new Communications Data Bill will be published, raising the prospect of it being delayed until after the next general election expected in 2010.

The Bill would require telecommunications companies to keep information about calls and emails and pave the way for the information being transferred from the companies to a giant Government database.

It would list phone numbers telephoned and addresses to which emails are sent, as well as web-browsing habits, but would not details of phone conversations or contents of emails.

But the government would be easily able to scan the database to see what people have been viewing and who they are communicating with.

The Home Office has been stung by the strength of opposition. Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, has condemned it as a step too far while Lord Carlisle of Berriew, the Government's terrorism watchdog, said it was awful as a raw idea.

...BUT...its going ahead anyway

Based on article from

The government Interception Modernisation Programme (gIMP), a plan by spy chiefs to centrally collect details of every phone call, text, email and web browsing session of every UK resident, could be in place by 2012, according to a Home Office minister.

Lord West told the House of Lords yesterday the government is aiming to have the enormous database of communications and black box interception hardware in place around the same time as BT completes its 21CN transition to an all-internet protocol network: Exactly how quickly that [BT's new backbone] will come in is difficult to predict, but it will be complete by about 2011-12. That is the sort of timescale we are looking at.

Independent Register sources in politics, the civil service and industry have all said that the gIMP is proceeding anyway with initial funding of almost £1bn. It's been reported that government estimates say the final cost of collecting and storing information about every electronic communication will be £12bn. Lord West said no decisions have been taken on which way to go.

The gIMP won't record the content of communications, but the central database will be linked to wiretap hardware. The two parts of the system will together allow government eavesdroppers to easily dial into the content of any IP stream of interest.


1st January

Update: Database Rethink...

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Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights condemns UK database monstrosity

Britain must rethink plans for a database holding details of every email, mobile phone and internet visit, Europe's human rights commissioner has said in an outspoken attack on the growth of surveillance societies.

Thomas Hammarberg said that UK proposals for sweeping powers to collect and store data will increase the risk of the violation of an individual's privacy.

Plans for the database of emails, phone calls and internet visits are to be published by the Home Office in January. These proposals have already been described by the Government's own terrorism-law watchdog as awful and attacked by civil liberty groups for laying the basis of a Big Brother state.

Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, told The Independent that surveillance technologies are developing at breathtaking speed. In a direct criticism of Britain, he said: It is therefore worrying that new legislation proposals intend to expand the authorities' power to allow personal data collection and sharing. Although safety measures are foreseen, the adoption of these measures would increase the risk of violation of individuals' privacy.

The retention and storing of data is delicate and must be highly protected from risk of abuse. We have already seen what a devastating and stigmatising effect losing files or publishing lists of names on the internet can have on the persons concerned. This is particularly relevant to the UK, where important private data has been lost and ended up in the public domain.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on home affairs, supported Hammarberg's criticism, saying: A major database for email, mobile phone calls and the internet would be an astonishing and Orwellian step. 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not a blueprint.

Worthless Government Reassurances

Based on article from

The private sector will be asked to manage and run a communications database that will keep track of everyone's calls, emails, texts and internet use under a key option contained in a consultation paper to be published next month by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary.

A cabinet decision to put the management of the multibillion pound database of all UK communications traffic into private hands would be accompanied by tougher legal safeguards to guarantee against leaks and accidental data losses.

But in his strongest criticism yet of the superdatabase, Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, who has firsthand experience of working with intelligence and law enforcement agencies, told the Guardian such assurances would prove worthless in the long run and warned it would prove a hellhouse of personal private information.

Macdonald said: Authorisations for access might be written into statute. The most senior ministers and officials might be designated as scrutineers. But none of this means anything. All history tells us that reassurances like these are worthless in the long run. In the first security crisis the locks would loosen.


12th January

Update: Labour's Listening...

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EU ISPs to retain email routing and websites visited from 15th March

Jacqui Smith will soon begin one of the Home Office's famed consultation exercises on new systems demanded by spy chiefs to snoop on internet communications in the UK. this is known as the  Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) .

But in the meantime, the imminently-in-force EU Data Retention Directive (EUDRD) is due to come into force on 15 March, as part of a European Commission directive which could affect every ISP in the country.

The EUDRD differs from Jacqui Smiths database monstrosity in that EUDRD mandates communications data retention by ISPs in house whereas the IMP could propose retention by the UK government in a centralised database.

Both were originally to be implemented by the Communications Data Bill as related but separate legal acknowledgements of law enforcement.

That marriage of convenience was cancelled, however, when it became clear its passage through parliament would cause the UK to fail to meet its legal obligation to transpose the EUDRD by March 15. Instead the directive is being made UK law by statutory instrument (secondary legislation without a parliamentary hearing).

In the meantime, Whitehall infighting over the much more ambitious IMP intensified, prompting Jacqui Smith to drop the Communications Data Bill from the Queen's Speech in favour of a public consultation, putatively scheduled to begin around the end of this month.

Based on article from

Plans for a Big Brother database holding records of every citizen's emails, internet visits and mobile phonecalls must include proper safeguards to protect the public from abuses of privacy, the head of the Crown Prosecution Service has warned.

Keir Starmer QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, speaking publicly for the first time since taking up his post in November, said the Government, police and security agencies should only be allowed to collect and use that data where there was a clear legitimate purpose that justified the invasion of an individual's privacy.

Starmer said: By its very nature criminal investigation touches on privacy. I think the right balance for any investigation or prosecution has got to have a legitimate purpose. Investigation of crime is a legitimate purpose. But Starmer stressed, there must also be effective safeguards to act as a break on the state's invasion of the public's privacy.

His predecessor, Sir Ken Macdonald, described the database as an unimaginable hell-house of personal private information.

Big Brother: How much will they know?

The wholesale collection and storage of all our email, internet and mobile phone records would allow the Government to know more than it has ever known about how we live our daily lives. By accessing mobile phone records and using GPS tracker technology it would be possible to discover where a phone-user is on any given day. Police or the security services would also be able to establish the length of each call as well as the number that was dialled.

Messages to and from social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace could also be subject to covert surveillance, meaning the Government would know both where we are and who our friends or associates might be. This information would be added to the records of all email traffic, allowing investigators to form a clearer picture of our social lives. This would include all emails, although not the content, from unsolicited sources.

The picture would be completed by a trawl of our internet history which might lead the police to draw conclusions about our interests and shopping habits. At no time would we know we were being snooped on.


31st January

Protest: cc all your email to Jacqui Smith...

Protest against Jacqui Smith's database monstrosity

When Jacqui Smith unveiled proposals to track every e-mail, phone call and text message, she might have let herself in for more than she bargained for.

Thousands of civil liberties campaigners plan to flood the Home Secretary's inbox by copying her in on every email they send on 15 June.

Martin Allan Gray is spearheading the campaign. He said he aims to send the message: You want to see our e-mails? OK, here they are!

Ms Smith announced proposals for a communications database monstrosity, containing details of everyone's telephone calls, e-mails and internet use, last month,

A message from Mr Allan Gray on the campaign's Facebook page says: 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.

Allan Gray has won the backing of Liberal Democrat MP Lynne Featherstone, Welsh Assembly member Peter Black and the Bishop of Buckinghamshire.

In her blog, Ms Featherstone described the proposals as bonkers and said she was backing the e-mail onslaught because civil liberties is the Lib Dem middle name.


7th February

Update: A Threat to Freedom...

Lords committee seeks dramatic reduction of surveillance state

The vast growth of surveillance and data collection risks undermining freedoms vital to the British way of life, a group of eminent peers has warned.

In a devastating critique of the spiralling use of CCTV, databases and information sharing, they warn that the growth of information collected about every man, woman and child in Britain is a serious threat to principles at the heart of the constitution.

The Lords Constitution Committee, which includes the former law lord, Lord Woolf, and the former attorney generals, Lord Lyell and Lord Morris of Aberavon, call in a report for new safeguards to prevent government and private databases damaging historic rights to privacy and civil liberties.

Committee chairman Lord Goodlad, a former Conservative minister, warns: The UK now has more CCTV cameras and a bigger national DNA database than any other country. There can be no justification for this gradual but incessant creep towards a situation where every detail about us is recorded and pored over by the state.

The peers warn that the collection and processing of personal information has become pervasive, routine, and almost taken for granted.

The report is being published as ministers prepare proposals to gain unprecedented access to details of every email, internet connection and telephone call made in Britain. Proposals to allow ministers to sanction the sharing of confidential personal data across Whitehall and beyond are also being debated by MPs.

The report calls for a dramatic slimming of the national DNA database, arguing samples should not be kept if people are not charged or convicted, and insisting the law should be changed to ensure DNA samples given by volunteers are removed.

The peers call for senior judges to oversee surveillance. They say ministers should review the powers of local councils to authorise surveillance and say compensation should be paid if people are monitored unlawfully by police or the security services. They also demand that a powerful committee of MPs and peers be established to oversee the data powers of the state.

Dominic Grieve, the shadow Justice Secretary, said: This is a damning indictment of the reckless approach of this Government to privacy. Ministers have sanctioned a massive increase in surveillance over the last decade, at great cost to the taxpayer, without properly assessing its effectiveness or protecting the privacy of innocent people.

David Howarth, the Liberal Democrat justice spokesman, said: This highlights how the Government has ridden roughshod over our freedoms in establishing its surveillance state. Ministers would do well to remember the British state belongs to the British people, not the other way around.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of pressure group Liberty, said: Our postbag suggests the House of Lords is more in touch with public concerns than our elected Government.


18th February

Update: Destroying Privacy...

More criticism of government data sharing

The British Computing Society has joined the chorus of criticism of the way the government has hidden major changes to data protection law in unrelated legislation - the Coroners and Justice Bill.

The BCS said the bill runs counter to the intentions and provisions of the Data Protection Act (DPA) and severely curtails the independence of the Information Commissioner.

The organisation also said the law would be unlikely to pass muster under the Human Rights Act, could increase citizens' distrust of government and could have disastrous consequences in the hands of a less benevolent government. [Surely there can't be many less benevolent then the monstrosity known as NuLabour]

The Coroners and Justice Bill will allow more data sharing between government departments without any oversight from Parliament. In fact the bill will allow ministers to remove any legal barrier that might exist to data sharing.

Ian Ryder, BCS deputy CEO, said all the responses received from members agreed on one thing: These proposals are far too ill-defined and general for their stated purpose, and are as a result potentially dangerous, and will do more harm than good.

Ryder added that the laws, used wrongly, would permit the restriction - and ultimately the destruction - of the right to personal and corporate data privacy.


23rd February

Update: Sharing a Warning...

David Blunkett to warn about the Big Brother state

David Blunkett, who introduced the idea of identity cards when Home Secretary, will issue a stark warning to the Government that it is in danger of abusing its power by taking Britain towards a Big Brother state.

At the 21st annual law lecture in Essex University's Colchester campus, Blunkett will urge ministers to rethink policy and counter criticism from civil liberties campaigners that Labour is creating a surveillance society.

He will come out against the Government's controversial plan to set up a database holding details of telephone calls and emails and its proposal to allow public bodies to share personal data with each other.

His surprise intervention will be welcomed by campaign groups, who regard him as a hardliner because of his strong backing for a national ID card scheme and tough anti-terror laws. The former home secretary will propose a U-turn on ID cards for British citizens, although he agrees with plans to make them compulsory for foreign nationals.

Blunkett will urge the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, to water down provisions in the Coroners and Justice Bill on data sharing between public bodies. He will warn: It is not simply whether the intentions are benign, undoubtedly they are, but whether they are likely to be misused and above all what value their use may have.

He insists that Britain is not yet a surveillance state but will warn ministers: The strength of our democracy is that we are able to challenge when the well-meaning, but sometimes misguided, take their own knowledge of the threats we face to be justification for protecting our mutual interest at the expense of our individual freedom. If we tolerate the intolerable, the intolerable gradually becomes the norm.


25th February

Update: Spinning Straw...

Straw said to be worrying about Big Brother criticisms

The Injustice Secretary, Jack Straw, will make a minor U-turn over sweeping new powers which were to allow public bodies to swap the data they hold on individuals.

In a clear sign the Government is worried about growing criticism that it is creating a Big Brother Britain , Straw is to rewrite his Coroners and Justice Bill to build in new safeguards to supposedly protect the public. He will table several amendments to the measure when it reaches its report stage in the Commons next month.

The climbdown comes after MPs from all parties and civil liberties groups warned that the Bill would mark a major departure from the principle that information collected for one purpose by the Government should not be used for another.

Straw revealed that he now accepts the provisions in the Bill were too broad. They said he has asked officials to draw up plans to tighten the provisions in an attempt to allay fears about a drift towards a surveillance society.

However, the Injustice Secretary predictably insists that there is still a case for more data sharing.


28th February

Update: Too Far, Too Fast...

Information Commissioner warns about surveillance in Britain

The Laws that allow officials to monitor the behaviour of millions of Britons risk hardwiring surveillance into the British way of life, the country's privacy watchdog has warned.

Richard Thomas told The Times that creeping surveillance in the public and private sectors had gone too far, too fast and risked undermining democracy.

The Information Commissioner warned that proposals to allow widespread data sharing between Whitehall and the private sector were too far-reaching and that plans to create a giant database of every telephone call, e-mail and text message risked turning everyone into a suspect. In the last 10 or 15 years a great deal of surveillance in public and private places has been extended without sufficient thought to the risks and consequences, said Thomas: Our society is based on liberty and democracy. I do not want to see excessive surveillance hardwired into British society.

He criticised proposals going through Parliament to allow mass data sharing between government departments and the private sector. Campaigners have claimed that Section 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill would enable the transfer of health and tax records to private companies such as insurance firms and medical researchers.

Last year Thomas recommended to ministers that data sharing be allowed only in carefully defined circumstances such as law enforcement, improving public services and for research. They ignored his advice. The Bill needs to be narrowed , Thomas said. He called on Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, to write into it that anything to justify a data-sharing order has to come explicitly under one of those headings.

Whitehall sources told The Times yesterday that Straw would amend the Bill in the next few weeks to meet Thomas's criticisms. Previously Straw's department had maintained that there were sufficient safeguards, including a requirement for parliamentary approval for each data transfer.

Other government plans also risked undermining people's right to privacy, Thomas said. Of the Home Secretary's proposal to build a database to store information currently held by internet service providers and telephone companies, Thomas said: A government-run database of the communications of all citizens, every phone call, every e-mail, every text, every internet use; a database of all those activities held by the Government would be a step too far for the British way of life.

He dismissed Jacqui Smith's assurances that officials would have access only to data on who had contacted whom, rather than the content of the communication. That A has telephoned B on a particular date from a particular location is actually quite intrusive. If an MP logged on to a site selling Viagra, that tells you quite a lot. If a 16-year-old girl goes on to a website about abortion that tells you an awful lot about her too. I don't think there's a black-and-white distinction between traffic data and content.

Thomas made clear that he did not object to the monitoring of those suspected of involvement in terrorism and serious crime. But I think that's a very different situation from monitoring the communications of the entire population. We've got to have a much clearer distinction between those who are suspects and everybody else and I think we're at risk of making everybody a suspect if we go too far down this road.

Another area of concern for Thomas is the use of surveillance cameras: he criticised the police for pressing to have closed-circuit television cameras installed in pubs. We've come out against the requirement for pub licensees to fit CCTV as a condition of their licence. This is hardwiring surveillance into British pubs. It is unacceptable.

The Information Commissioner added his voice to criticism of ContactPoint, a computer database containing details on every child in the country: I can see the benefits of a national database of children at risk ... I'm less convinced that you need to have a database of every child in the country. Is it not better to have fuller details of children known to be at risk and make sure that information is used properly?


4th March

Update: Doctors Sick of New Labour...

BMA warns the government data sharing will erode trust in doctor-patient relationships

Doctors have condemned a Big Brother scheme to give the public sector and private companies much wider access to personal medical records.

Eight organisations, including the British Medical Association and the medical royal colleges, have protested against it. They have written a letter to oppose a proposed law that would make it easier for the Government to share data.

They are demanding that medical records be exempt from provisions in Jack Straw's Coroners and Justice Bill. The signatories have asked for a meeting with the Justice Secretary and expressed grave concerns about a clause of the Bill.

This clause appears to grant the Government unprecedented powers to access confidential medical records - and even share them with third parties. Ministers would simply be able to sign an order, allowing their department to share data.

The BMA argues much of the at-risk data could be used by medical researchers, potentially in the pay of drugs companies. In their letter, the protesting bodies said that the new powers would undermine the presumption of confidentiality, corrode trust in the doctor-patient relationship and could have a disastrous impact on both the health of individuals and the public.

It went on to state that the Bill could result in patients withholding information or even avoiding the healthcare system altogether.


8th March

Update: Coroner's Inquest...

Straw kills of his data sharing proposals for a while

Jack Straw has scrapped government proposals that could have allowed patients' medical and DNA records to be shared with police, foreign governments and other bodies.

In a victory for civil liberties campaigners, the justice secretary bowed to public pressure over the data-sharing provisions in the forthcoming coroners' bill, which would have allowed public bodies to exchange data without the knowledge or consent of individuals involved. Doctors and the Bar Council had joined privacy campaigners in warning of the potential risks to public trust.

The move will be seen as an olive branch to Labour MPs concerned about what they see as the erosion of civil liberties, and will raise eyebrows at Westminster where Straw is viewed as a potential future leadership contender.

He will now launch a fresh public consultation on how to implement more limited proposals from a review chaired by the information commissioner, Richard Thomas, which would allow government bodies to share information where there is clear benefit - for example, to ensure that bereaved families do not have to contact a string of official agencies to tell them someone has died.

Update: Formally Dropped

18th March 2009. See article from

Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, formally dropped proposals yesterday in which personal data, from DNA and medical records to tax and other information, would be shared across Whitehall departments, police and other public bodies.

The Liberal Democrat justice spokesman, David Howarth, said: "I am relieved that the Government has finally seen sense and scrapped these extraordinarily broad and dangerously ill-thought-out provisions."


15th March

Update: Labour's Listening...

Deadline day for ISPs to retain your communications logs

UK ISPs will be required to hand over records of customers' Internet surfing habits, including IP addresses and times of use, to police and intelligence agencies from Sunday.

As part of the EU Data Retention Directive, all ISPs must retain customers' names, addresses and user IDs, as well as records of e-mail and Internet telephony communications, for a year.

ISPs have been given an extra 18 months to comply with the regulations after some smaller providers complained of a heavy administrative burden - phone companies are already subject to the law.


18th March

Update: Advanced Warning...

Founder of the internet warns about tracking websites

Surfers on the Internet are at increasing risk from governments and corporations tracking the sites they visit to build up a picture of their activities, the founder of the World Wide Web said.

Tim Berners-Lee, whose proposal for an information management system at the European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN 20 years ago led eventually to the World Wide Web, said tracking website visits in this way could build an incredibly detailed profile of who people are and their habits.

That form of snooping I think is really important to avoid, he told an anniversary celebration at CERN.


27th March

Update: The Face of Big Brother...

A clear network of friends is way too tempting for Government snoops

Millions of Britons who use social networking sites such as Facebook could soon have their every move monitored by the Government and saved on their "Big Brother" database monstrosity.

The idea to police MySpace, Bebo and Facebook comes on top of plans to store information about every phone call, email and internet visit made by everyone in the United Kingdom. Almost half the British population – some 25 million people – are thought to use social networking sites.

The use of social networking sites has boomed in the last few years so Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister, has disclosed that social networking sites could be forced to retain information about users' web-browsing habits. They could be required to hold data about every person users correspond with via the sites, although the contents of messages sent would not be collected. Coaker said: Social networking sites, such as MySpace or Bebo, are not covered by the directive. That is one reason why the Government are looking at what we should do about the intercept modernisation programme because there are certain aspects of communications which are not covered by the directive.

Facebook boasts 17 million Britons as members. Bebo, which caters mainly for teenagers and young adults, has more than 10 million users. A similar number of music fans are thought to use MySpace.

Isabella Sankey, policy director at Liberty, said: Even before you throw Facebook and other social networking sites into the mix, the proposed central communications database is a terrifying prospect. It would allow the Government to record every email, text message and phone call and would turn millions of innocent Britons into permanent suspects.

Richard Clayton, a computer security expert at Cambridge University, said: What they are doing is looking at who you communicate with and who your friends are, which is greatly intrusive into your private life.

Chris Kelly, Facebook's chief privacy officer, said yesterday that it was considering lobbying ministers over the proposal, which he called overkill.


6th April

Update: Watch Where You Browse...

UK ISPs retain website and email logs from today

Details of every email sent and website visited by people in Britain are to be stored for use by the state from today as part of what campaigners say is a massive assault on privacy.

A European Union directive, which Britain was instrumental in devising, comes into force which will require all internet service providers to retain information on email traffic, visits to web sites and telephone calls made over the internet, for 12 months.

Hundreds of public bodies and quangos, including local councils, will also be able to access the data to investigate flytipping and other less serious crimes.

It was previously thought that only the large companies would be required to take part, covering 95% of Britain's internet usage, but a Home Office spokesman has confirmed it will be applied across the board to even the smallest company.

Phil Noble of privacy group NO2ID, said: This is the kind of technology that the Stasi would have dreamed of. We are facing a co-ordinated strategy to track everyone's communications, creating a dossier on every person's relationships and transactions. It is clearly preparatory work for the as-yet un-revealed plans for intercept modernisation.

Another EU directive which requires companies to hold details of telephone records for a year has already come into force, and although internet data is held on an ad hoc basis this is the first time the industry has faced a statutory requirement to archive the material.


25th April

Update: Monstrosity Unveiled...

Government prepare to unveil their ideas for a searchable database of communications

Every phone call, email or website visit will be monitored by the state in a searchable database under plans to be unveiled this week.

The proposals will give police and security services the power to snoop on every single communication made by the public with the data then likely to be stored in an enormous national database.

The move has alarmed civil liberty campaigners, and the country's data protection watchdog last night warned the proposals would be unacceptable .

A consultation document on the plans, known in Whitehall as the Interception Modernisation Programme, is likely to put great emphasis on propaganda about the threat facing Britain and warn the alternative to the powers would be a massive expansion of surveillance.

But that will fuel concerns among critics that the Government is using a climate of fear to expand the surveillance state.

Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, the country's data watchdog, told the Daily Telegraph: a Government database of the records of everyone's communications – if that is to be proposed – is not likely to be acceptable to the British public. Remember that records – who? when? where? – can be highly intrusive even if no content is collected.

It is understood Thomas is concerned that even details on who people contact or sites they visit could intrude on their privacy, such as data showing an individual visiting a website selling Viagra.

The proposed powers will allow police and security services to monitor communication "traffic", which is who calls, texts, emails who, when and where but not what is said. Similarly they will be able to see which websites someone visits, when and from where but not the content of those visits.

However, if the data sets alarm bells ringing, officials can request a ministerial warrant to intercept exactly what is being sent, including the content.


28th April

Update: Monstrosity Unveiled...

Government unveil their ideas for a searchable databases of communications

Communications companies are being asked to record all internet contacts between people to modernise police surveillance tactics in the UK.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith stepped back from a single database - but wants companies to hold and organise the information for the security services.

Announcing a consultation on a new strategy for communications data and its use in law enforcement, 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.

Presumably to add a networked SQL facility to enable the authorities to search across databases with such questions as give me a list of all mobile phone users in Heathrow last Thursday who regularly read jihadist websites.

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.

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.

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,

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 consultation document is entitled Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment [pdf]

Responses, by Monday 20th July 2009 to:

Nigel Burrowes
Communications Data Consultation
Room P.5.37
Home Office
2 Marsham Street
London SW1P 4DF

Or by e-mail to:


4th May

Updated: Expenses Allocated for Dubious Purposes...

UK Government snooping continues despite apparent climb down

The home secretary has vowed to scrap a ‘big brother’ database, but a bid to spy on us all continues.

Spy chiefs are pressing ahead with secret plans to monitor all internet use and telephone calls in Britain despite an announcement by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, of a ministerial climbdown over public surveillance.

GCHQ, the government’s eavesdropping centre, is developing classified technology to intercept and monitor all e-mails, website visits and social networking sessions in Britain. The agency will also be able to track telephone calls made over the internet, as well as all phone calls to land lines and mobiles.

The £1 billion snooping project — called Mastering the Internet (MTI) — will rely on thousands of “black box” probes being covertly inserted across online infrastructure.

The top-secret programme began to be implemented last year, but its existence has been inadvertently disclosed through a GCHQ job advertisement carried in the computer trade press.

Grabbing favourable headlines about the climbdown on a central database, Smith announced that up to £2 billion of public money would instead be spent helping private internet and telephone companies to retain information for up to 12 months in separate databases.

However, she failed to mention that substantial additional sums — amounting to more than £1 billion over three years — had already been allocated to GCHQ for its MTI programme.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said Smith’s announcement appeared to be a smokescreen. We opposed the big brother database because it gave the state direct access to everybody’s communications. But this network of black boxes achieves the same thing via the back door.

Update: GCHQ on Mastering the Internet

4th May 2009. See press release from

Presumably in response to the Sunday Times revelations above, GCHQ have issue a rare press release:

Just as our predecessors at Bletchley Park mastered the use of the first computers, today, partnering with industry, we need to master the use of internet technologies and skills that will enable us to keep one step ahead of the threats. This is what mastering the internet is about. GCHQ is not developing technology to enable the monitoring of all internet use and phone calls in Britain, or to target everyone in the UK. Similarly, GCHQ has no ambitions, expectations or plans for a database or databases to store centrally all communications data in Britain.

Because we rely upon maintaining an advantage over those that would damage UK interests, it is usually the case that we will not disclose information about our operations and methods. People sometimes assume that secrecy comes at the price of accountability but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, GCHQ is subject to rigorous parliamentary and judicial oversight (the Intelligence and Security Committee of parliamentarians, and two senior members of the judiciary: the Intelligence Services Commissioner and the Interception of Communications Commissioner) and works entirely within a legal framework that complies with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The new technology that GCHQ is developing is designed to work under the existing legal framework. It is an evolution of current capability within current accountability and oversight arrangements The Intelligence Services Act 1994 and the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 underpin activities at GCHQ - both existing systems and those we are planning and building at the moment. The purposes for which interception may be permitted are set out explicitly in the legislation: national security, safeguarding our economic well being and the prevention and detection of serious crime. Interception for other purposes is not lawful and we do not do it. GCHQ does not target anyone indiscriminately - all our activities are proportionate to the threats against which we seek to guard and are subject to tests on those grounds by the Commissioners. The legislation also sets out the procedures for Ministers to authorise interception; GCHQ follows these meticulously. GCHQ only acts when it is necessary and proportionate to do so; GCHQ does not spy at will.

Update: ISPs Unimpressed

4th June 2009. See article from

Jacqui Smith's plan to have ISPs create an enormous federated database of all online communications is receiving a frosty reception from the industry, multiple sources have revealed.

Many in the industry are currently working on their written objections to the proposals, which are known in Whitehall as the Interception Modernisation Programme.

ISPs are worried that the Home Office does not understand the scale of the technical challenge involved in monitoring and storing data on every communication via the internet. They fear the spiralling costs associated with government IT projects and resent being forced to devote resources to the plans.


10th June

Offsite: Watching Over Our Shoulders?...

Fighting Nineteen Eighty-Four

Sixty years ago today George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was published, and this evening, as though to mark the anniversary of Orwell's last book, the former head of GCHQ, Sir David Pepper, slips from the shadows to tell the BBC's Who's Watching You programme that it has become necessary for the government to record all data from phone and internet traffic in the fight against terror.

Pepper, who was, incidentally, born as Orwell struggled over his manuscript in the winter of 1948, the year the author reversed for his title, makes a case for the total surveillance of society in order to catch the increasingly sophisticated targets. "There are plenty of people who will do all they can to make themselves difficult to find," he says. "The thing you worry about most is the attack that you haven't seen coming."

The unknown enemy is cast, very much like the ill-defined threat presented to Oceania in Nineteen Eighty-Four, as a pervasive, cunning and unseen foe that requires total watchfulness and, it follows, the sacrifice of the essential right of privacy. In the programme, Pepper explains the challenges that face his former colleagues at GCHQ with a diagram that shows how information is carried in discreet packets across the internet, a development which he implies must be met by granting the agency total access to all our communications.

...Read full article

How we should keep an eye on the powers that are watching us

 See article from by Nigel Shadbolt

"Privacy is dead - get over it!” So proclaimed Scott McNealy, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, in 2000. It might appear that in an age of increased surveillance, with huge amounts of personal data floating around, he has a point. But privacy is a fundamental human right and we give it up at our peril.

Privacy is essential for the proper functioning of a liberal, democratic society. The right to privacy gives people a space for intimacy, independence of action and freedom of speech. Privacy is a public good and benefits society in the same way that clean air does. It is something we would do well to protect.

The problem is that technology enables the State, companies, all of us to collect and integrate more and more personal information. Every five years this capability increases tenfold. It has put an end to “practical obscurity” - you can no longer lose yourself in the crowd.

..Read full article


19th June

Offsite: State Snooping...

Briefing on the Interception Modernisation Programme

Researchers from the Policy Engagement Network, based in the London School of Economics Information Systems and Innovation Group, have produced a 57 page report, which is essential reading for anyone worried about the Home Office's EU Directive based mandatory Communications Traffic Data Retention laws, and their vague plans for extending this even further the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), the review of Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) codes of practice and legislation.


In this briefing we aim to provide some depth of understanding of the nature of the Home Office's latest proposals on communications surveillance. We are sympathetic with the needs of the law enforcement community and we agree with the Home Office that the communications environment is changing. However we question whether the Home Office fully understands the extent to which the way in which surveillance activities are authorised would change were its wishes granted, in turn leading to a tipping of the balance in favour of state power and away from the individual.

We are also concerned that there is a significant under-estimate of the burdens being placed on Communication Service Providers at a time where elsewhere in government there is a demand for universal broadband internet provision which industry is supposed to fund. This report was not drafted to respond to the Home Office's Consultation document, but rather we are adding more expertise to the public deliberation on this policy. The report is the result of research we conducted with key experts across the UK and internationally.

...Read the Briefing on the Interception Modernisation Programme [pdf]


2nd August

Update: State Snooping...

ISPs condemn the far reaching internet surveillance proposed by the UK government

Internet firms have condemned the government's Big Brother surveillance plans as an unwarranted intrusion into people's privacy.

The companies, which ministers are relying on to implement the scheme, also say the government has misled the public about how far it plans to go in monitoring internet use.

The criticism, contained in a private submission to the Home Office, threatens to derail the £2 billion project, which ministers claim is essential to combat terrorism and crime.

Despite hostility from opposition MPs and civil liberties groups, government security officials want to be able to monitor every e-mail, phone call and website visit of people in the UK. The government claims it wants simply to maintain its capability to fight serious crime and terrorism.

However, the submission — by the London Internet Exchange, which represents more than 330 firms including BT, Virgin and Carphone Warehouse — said: We view the description of the government's proposals as ‘maintaining' the capability as disingenuous: the volume of data the government now proposes [we] should collect and retain will be unprecedented, as is the overall level of intrusion into the privacy of citizenry.

This is a purely political description that serves only to win consent by hiding the extent of the proposed extension of powers for the state.

Apart from accusing ministers and officials of hiding the truth from the public, the internet firms dismissed the plans as technically unworkable. In a statement earlier this year, GCHQ denied that it planned to spy on every e-mail and website visit in the UK. The internet providers, however, made it clear they do not believe that denial.

These new proposals suggest an intention to capture anything and everything, regardless of the communications [method] used. We have grave misgivings about the technical feasibility of such ambition, they said: We are not aware of any existing equipment [an internet company] could purchase that would enable it to fulfil a legal obligation to acquire and retain such a wide range of data as it transits across their network ... in some common cases it would be impossible in principle to obtain the information sought.

The internet providers also complained that the new proposals might be illegal under European or human rights laws. They said the plans would involve the collection of data which is unprecedented both in volume and the level of intrusion into personal privacy.


7th August

Update: Withdraw the Communications Bill...

UK government response to closed petition

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to withdraw the Government's support for the Communications Data Bill

The Communications Data Bill would give the Government the legal authority to collect a database of every phone call, e-mail and time spent on the internet by the public. Even though the Government insists that this bill would reduce terrorism (which it probably will not), this is an intolerable intrusion into the privacy of free citizens and a step towards a dystopian "Big Brother" state. The Bill must be quashed to protect civil liberties and halt the slippery slope towards an Orwellian 1984-type nightmare.

Result: Snooping On

Closed with 1210 signatures

Government Response:

The Government has not proposed to create a centralised database which would hold the content (what was said or written in a communication) of all phone calls and e-mails sent by the public.

In April 2009, the Government published a consultation paper “Protecting the Public in a Changing Communications Environment” which considers how best to maintain the capability of public authorities to obtain access to communications data. The existing capability is declining in the face of rapid technological changes in the communications industry. The consultation document does, however, specifically rule out a central database holding all communications data.

Communications data is the “who, when, where and how” information from mobile phone calls, texts, e-mails and instant messages but is not the content. The use of communications data is an important capability that is used by the police and other agencies to protect the public and fight crime and terrorism.

The consultation outlines ways to collect and retain communications data and seeks views on how to strike the right balance between privacy and security. The system the consultation proposes is based on the current model where communications service providers collect and retain data and where there are strict and effective safeguards in place to ensure that relevant public authorities can only access the data on a case-by-case basis, when it is necessary and proportionate to do so.


10th August

Update: Stasi Britain...

One UK adult in 78 coming under state surveillance

The number of Big Brother snooping missions by police, town halls and other public bodies has soared by 44% in two years.

Last year there were 504,073 new cases. This is the equivalent of one adult in 78 coming under state-sanctioned surveillance.

Liberal Democrat spokesman Chris Huhne said last night: It cannot be a justified response to the problems we face in this country that the state is spying on half a million people a year. The Government forgets that George Orwell's 1984 was a warning, not a blueprint. We are still a long way from living under the Stasi - but it beggars belief that is necessary to spy on one in every 78 adults.

The requests to intercept email and telephone records were made under the hugely controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. A total of 653 state bodies, including 474 local councils, are allowed to use its surveillance powers.

Huhne said it made a mockery of a supposed crackdown on the use of RIPA by the Home Office. He added: We have sleepwalked into a surveillance state but without adequate safeguards. Having the Home Secretary in charge of authorisation is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

Despite the huge number of requests, the Home Office says there is a need to go further than giving public bodies access to phone and internet records. Under plans unveiled earlier this year, the police and security services would gain access to the public's every internet click and phone call. This would include, for the first time, monitoring the use of social networking sites such as Facebook. Every internet and phone company would have to allocate an ID to each customer.


11th November

Offsite: Internet Snooping Delayed...

Home Office aspires to read your emails

Legislation for the interception modernisation programme will not be included in the Queen's speech next week. But do not relax: the Home Office has an unyielding ambition to grant itself and 653 authorities access to the data from every email, phone call, text message and internet connection.

This apparent withdrawal is in fact a long-range strategy that seeks to defuse the issue before the general election, at a time when there is increasing fear about Britain's surveillance state. How wise would it have been to make the Queen rehearse these dreadful measures in her speech, just a week after celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Stasi? The Home Office and Alan Johnson know better than to make a gift like this to those who question not just this government's motives but the relentlessly authoritarian agenda in the Home Office.

There are other good reasons for the delay, now that the idea of an expensive single database has been abandoned. The companies who will be charged with gathering and retaining information on their customers have raised doubts about feasibility, as well as privacy and cost. The Home Office must gain their compliance. So they have taken the heat out of the issue and are biding their time until a future Conservative government has been groomed by officials to see the overwhelming need for this massive spy system.

...Read the full article


17th November

Offsite: Eavesdropping on a Nasty Government...

Email surveillance: ditch it for good

Labour is right to think plans to snoop on our internet use will harm its election chances – but have they really been shelved?

The government is playing a two-handed game over its plan to snoop on all our communication and internet activity. On the one hand, officials have put it about that the scheme has been indefinitely shelved because of concerns raised in the public consultation on the proposals. On the other, Home Office insiders assure me that the government has no intention of putting the scheme on hold. Any statements to the contrary are designed to mitigate the risk of a negative campaign in the run-up to the general election.

The government quite rightly perceives an election risk because of its surveillance plans. It is, after all, proposing to reach deep into the private life of everyone in the nation. From your phone records and emails to your activity on social networking sites such as Facebook, the government wants to know everything you do.

The scheme is a political disaster in the making. Both the Tories and the Lib Dems have positioned themselves with a reform agenda on privacy. The mere existence of a surveillance plan of this magnitude would have created the sort of clear blue water that no government would want. Bad enough that it has already created a surveillance society second to none in the democratic world; even worse if it was seen to be moving toward a North Korean model.

....Read full article


26th December

Update: Unanimously Unimpressed...

Mobile phone companies unimpressed by Government communications snooping

Every UK mobile network has serious objections to plans to intercept and store details of every communication via the internet, Home Office documents reveal.

Submissions to a government consultation from 3, O2, Orange, T-Mobile and Vodafone highlight the strength of industry concern over the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), which aims to capture lists of online contacts and log all website visits and VoIP calls.

The documents - obtained by The Register under the Freedom of Information Act - show how criticism forced the Home Office to stall the scheme after the consultation closed last month. They also voice doubts over whether the government is capable of implementing or maintaining the type of system it wants.

The mobile operators variously attack IMP's technical feasibility, its legality, its impact on customer privacy and its opaque £2bn cost estimate. They also question the consultation's assertion that the ability to access records of all communications is essential for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to do their jobs.

The government asked mobile operators to comment on proposals that would compel them to intercept details of when and where each of their customers use third party communications services such as Facebook and Skype, as well as who they contact. The operators would process and store this information in massive datacentres, matching it to build searchable profiles of customers and devices for authorities.


20th October

Update: Big Brother Dave...

Cameron to resurrect extensive government internet snooping plan

Hugely controversial Big Brother plans to store details of every internet click, email and telephone call that we make are being revived by the Coalition, it has emerged.

Police, security services and other public bodies would be able to find out which websites a person had visited, and when, where and to whom a text or call was made.

The plan – which was kicked into the long grass by Labour amid a public outcry – will put the Government on a collision course with civil liberties groups.

They argue it is a snooper's charter which will allow the state to spy on millions of innocent citizens.

So far ministers have insisted they want to provide a correction in favour of liberty when it comes to the powers required to protect the public. But this is sounding pretty weak now ministers have been persuaded of the case to give the police and security officials enhanced rights to access the public's communications.

Firm plans will be published later this year on how the personal information should be stored.


4th November

Petition: Intercept Modernisation Plan...

Stop the government snooping on every email and Facebook message

The government has announced that it will be spending up to £2 billion into new ways to snoop on email and web traffic.

This Kafka-esque Intercept Modernisation Plan , was stopped near the end of the last government, but was quietly revived in the 2010 Spending Review. While billions of pounds are being slashed from education, welfare and defence, the government plans to waste vast sums trying to snoop on our emails and Facebook communications.

We need to tell the government to stop this wasteful, intrusive plan for wholesale snooping on our daily lives.

Please sign our petition – and tell your friends:

Dear David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Theresa May,

I do not want the government to try to intercept every UK email, facebook account and online communication. It would be pointless – as it will be easy for criminals to encrypt and evade – and expensive, costing everyone £2 billion. It would also be illegal: mass surveillance would be a breach of our fundamental right to privacy. Please cancel the Intercept Modernisation Plan.

7284 people have signed so far


7th November

Update: Ubiquitous Surveillance...

Report outlines 3 million instances of snooping by British authorities

The astonishing extent of Britain's surveillance society has been revealed for the first time. Three million snooping operations have been carried out over the past decade under controversial RIPA laws allowing widespread electronic snooping.

The campaign group Justice is demanding the hugely controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, under which all the operations were authorised, be scrapped altogether.

The group's report, titled Freedom from Suspicion , says: The UK has, in the space of 40 years, gone from a society in which mass surveillance was largely a theoretical possibility to one in which it has become not only ubiquitous but routine.

RIPA, billed as anti-terror legislation , was passed by Labour in 2000 supposedly to regulate snooping by public bodies. But Justice, which has campaigned on privacy matters for decades, says the result has been a huge increase in intrusive surveillance.

Since the Act was passed, there have been:

  • More than 20,000 warrants for the interception of phone calls, emails and internet use;

  • At least 2.7million requests for communication data, including phone bills and location information;

  • More than 4,000 authorisations for intrusive surveillance, such as planting a bug in a person's house;

  • At least 186,133 authorisations for directed (covert) surveillance by law enforcement agencies;

  • 61,317 directed surveillance operations by other public bodies, including councils;

  • 43,391 authorisations for covert human intelligence sources .

In total, the report says there have been around three million decisions taken by state bodies under RIPA, not including blanket authorisations given to the security and intelligence services. The report comments:

RIPA has not only failed to check a great deal of plainly excessive surveillance by public bodies over the last decade but, in many cases, inadvertently encouraged it.

Its poor drafting has allowed councils to snoop, phone hacking to flourish, privileged conversations to be illegally recorded and CCTV to spread. It is also badly out of date.

The Coalition's Protection of Freedoms Bill will reform RIPA by forcing councils to get authorisation from a magistrate before they can go on spying missions. But Justice says the new safeguards are insufficient and RIPA should be scrapped. It calls for an entirely new regime to be put in place.  Justice's Angela Patrick said: The time has come for Parliament to undertake root-and-branch reform of Britain's surveillance powers and provide genuinely effective safeguards against abuse.


20th February

Update: Stasi Dave...

Government revives mega-snooping plan on British internet and phone communications
Details of every phone call and text message, email traffic and websites visited online are to be stored in a series of vast databases under new Government plans. Landline and mobile phone companies and broadband providers will be ordered to store the data for a year and make it available to the security services under the scheme.

The databases would not record the contents of calls, texts or emails but the numbers or email addresses of who they are sent and received by. For the first time, the security services will have widespread access to information about who has been communicating with each other on social networking sites such as Facebook. Direct messages between subscribers to websites such as Twitter would also be stored, as well as communications between players in online video games.

Rather than the Government holding the information centrally, companies including BT, Sky, Virgin Media, Vodafone and O2 would have to keep the records themselves. Under the scheme the security services would be granted real time access to phone and internet records of people they want to put under surveillance, as well as the ability to reconstruct their movements through the information stored in the databases. The system would track who, when and where of each message, allowing extremely close surveillance. Mobile phone records of calls and texts show within yards where a call was made or a message was sent, while emails and internet browsing histories can be matched to a computer's IP address , which can be used to locate where it was sent.

Labour shelved the project - known as the Intercept Modernisation Programme - in November 2009 after a consultation showed it had little public support.

At the same time the Conservatives criticised Labour's reckless record on privacy. A called Reversing the Rise of the Surveillance State by Dominic Grieve, then shadow home secretary and now Attorney General, published in 2009, said a Tory government would collect fewer personal details which would be held by specific authorities on a need-to-know basis only .

But the security services have now won a battle to have the scheme revived. They are known to have lobbied Theresa May, the Home Secretary, strongly for the scheme.

Sources said ministers are planning to allocate legislative time to the new spy programme, called the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP) , in the Queen's Speech in May.


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