Monday, February 20, 2012
Forget Any Personal Freedoms In These End Times
The British government has dusted off previously shelved plans to create huge databases, enabling spy agencies to monitor every phone call, email and text message as well as websites visited by everyone in the country.
The Telegraph reports that under the plans, the government will force every communications network to store the data for one year. The plans also extend to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and gaming sites.
The plans, drawn up by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, the government’s secret eavesdropping agency, may be officially announced as soon as May, according to details seen by the Telegraph.
Those agencies would have real time access to the records kept by companies such as Vodafone and British Telecom.
The records would allow the spy agencies to monitor the “who, when and where” of every phone call, text message and email sent, while also allowing for internet browsing histories to be matched to IP addresses.
Unassumingly titled the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP), the new scheme is set to be implemented under anti-terrorism laws, with the spy agencies saying it will allow them to more closely monitor suspects ahead of the London 2012 Olympics in July.
Critics and civil liberties advocates are calling for mass opposition to the plans, noting that the scheme is open to abuse not only by spy agencies and communications companies themselves, but also by hackers and online criminals.
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, a civil liberties campaign organisation, said: “This would be a systematic effort to spy on all of our digital communications.
“No state in history has been able to gather the level of information proposed – it’s a way of collecting everything about who we talk to just in case something turns up.” Killock added.
Gus Hosein, of Privacy International, said: “This will be ripe for hacking. Every hacker, every malicious threat, every foreign government is going to want access to this.
“And if communications providers have a government mandate to start collecting this information they will be incredibly tempted to start monitoring this data themselves so they can compete with Google and Facebook.”
“The internet companies will be told to store who you are friends with and interact with. While this may appear innocuous it requires the active interception of every single communication you make, and this has never been done in a democratic society.” Hosein urged.
The Open Rights Group has an online anti-CCDP petition, which describes the plan as “pointless,” “expensive,” and “illegal” and urges the public to come together to oppose it.
Back in 2008, the government announced its intention to create a massive central database, gathering details on every text sent, e-mail sent, phone call made and website visited by everyone in the UK.
The programme, known as the “Interception Modernisation Programme”, would have allowed spy chiefs at GCHQ, the centre for Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) activities, to effectively place a “live tap” on every electronic communication in Britain in the name of preventing terrorism.
Following outcry over the announcement, the government suggested that it was scaling down the plans, with then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith stating that there were “absolutely no plans for a single central store” of communications data.
However, as the “climbdown” was celebrated by civil liberties advocates and the plan was “replaced” by new laws requiring ISPs to store details of emails and internet telephony for just 12 months, fresh details emerged indicating the government was implementing a big brother spy system that far outstrips the original public announcement.
The London Times published leaked details of a secret mass internet surveillance project known as “Mastering the Internet” (MTI).
Costing hundreds of millions in public funds, the system continued to be implemented by GCHQ with the aid of American defence giant Lockheed Martin and British IT firm Detica, which has close ties to the intelligence agencies.
A group of over 300 internet service providers and telecommunications firms attempted to fight back over the radical plans, describing the proposals as an unwarranted invasion of people’s privacy.
Currently, any interception of a communication in Britain must be authorised by a warrant signed by the home secretary or a minister of equivalent rank. Only individuals who are the subject of police or security service investigations may be subject to surveillance.
If the GCHQ’s MTI project is completed, black-box probes would be placed at critical traffic junctions with internet service providers and telephone companies, allowing eavesdroppers to instantly monitor the communications of every person in the country without the need for a warrant.
Even if you believe GCHQ’s denial that it has any plans to create a huge monitoring system, the current law under the RIPA (the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act) allows hundreds of government agencies access to the records of every internet provider in the country.
If the plans go ahead, every internet user will be given a unique ID code and all their data will be stored in one place. Government agencies such as the police and security services will have access to the data should they request it with respect to criminal or terrorist investigations.
This is clearly the next step in an incremental program to implement an already exposed full scale big brother spy system designed to completely obliterate privacy, a fundamental right under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is also clear that the Anglo-American establishment is in lock step when it comes to monitoring and restricting freedom of communications.
A similar plan is fully in the works in the US, in the guise of The Protecting Children from Internet Pornographers Act, which passed votes in both the House and the Senate in 2011.
The legislation, currently still up for debate, will force Internet providers to store information on all their customers and share it with the federal government and law enforcement agencies.
Described by privacy experts as a “stalking horse for a massive expansion of federal power”, the bill was significantly beefed at the last minute before passing a House Judiciary committee vote to include the enforced retention of customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers and bank account numbers, as well as IP addresses.