Central Database of UK Internet Traffic

Sunday, October 5th, 2008. 3:52am

According to ex-editor of the Sunday Times, Andrew Neil, the Government occasionally uses the Sunday Papers to test the populace’s reactions to its more outlandish policy ideas. In today’s Sunday Times there is an article entitled: There’s no hiding place as spy HQ plans to see all. I suspect this is such an article so I am writing here, hoping to help send them resounding no and help put a stop to the ludicrous and unnecessary intrusive expansion of the state proposed within it.

The article describes plans to create a central database of UK internet traffic :

… the system will require the insertion of “thousands” of black box probes into the country’s computer and telephone networks.

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.

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.

I have no problem with the state having a capability to intercept communications for purposes such as tackling serious crime including terrorism. I believe it is important that the government’s capability keeps pace with advances in communications technology. However the state’s use of its powers to intercept communications must be kept under democratic or judicial control/review, and the state’s capabilities ought, unlike the system proposed in the article, be proportionate to their requirements.

Prior to the introduction of the national number plate recognition system covering the majority of the roads in the UK there was no national debate on what safeguards should be placed on its use. Various arms of the state can find out where I’ve been driving and who with without a warrant or an appropriate process of authorisation. We don’t know how long the data will be kept, and cannot conceive of what it may be used for in the future if it is retained. We need to be asking questions like these now in relation to this proposed system.

I believe that snooping on someone’s movements or on their email and web communications is an invasion of privacy of a similar magnitude to that which occurs when someone’s house is searched and as such the safeguards against abuse ought also be similar.

As with part three of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which enables the UK state to demand encryption keys this proposed database will also I believe have a negative impact on the attractiveness of the UK as a centre for the internet, information and banking industries. If companies can be forced to give up encryption keys, and have all their internet traffic logged and trawled though they may well decide to base their operations elsewhere.

I think the Government are getting above themselves here; if they, or those they use as contractors, really had the information technology capabilities to run such a system they wouldn’t be finding the NHS or child support agency systems such a challenge.

I have submitted the essence of this post in the 300 characters permitted as a comment to the article on the Times website.

I agree the state needs a capability to intercept communications to tackle serious crime and it must keep pace with technological progress.

Democratic or judicial oversight of these powers’ use is essential.

The system proposed appears disproportionate to requirements.

If anyone knows of better ways to respond to articles like this in the Sunday Papers than writing a comment on the newspaper’s website along with a blog post then do let me know.

2 comments/updates on “Central Database of UK Internet Traffic

  1. Richard Article author

    Ten days after the above post, BBC News article on the subject entitled: Giant database plan ‘Orwellian’ reported the proposals had been diluted.

    Proposals for a central database of all mobile phone and internet traffic have been condemned as “Orwellian”.

    Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the police and security services needed new powers to keep up with technology.

    And she promised that the content of conversations would not be stored, just times and dates of messages and calls.

  2. Richard Article author

    The December 2008 Queen’s Speech revealed this measure had been dropped.

    David Davis, speaking in Parliament said he felt the government had withdrawn this having appreciated the strength of public opinion.

    If the measure returned, he said the government would have a long battle, not least against him, to get it through.

    He said many agencies were opposed to the massive database, and suggested the Home Office should be firm with those clamouring for it.

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