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Govt ministers distance themselves from email spy plan

David Shayler, Lord Cope tell The Reg what they think

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Government ministers are distancing themselves from the Draconian surveillance measures proposed by NCIS deputy Roger Gaspar in a report to the Home Office.

The report, asking for all communications data in the UK to be stored for seven years in government-run data warehouses, was leaked to the Observer at the weekend and met with a furious reception.

Today in the FT, top ministers have made it clear in that special way they do without actually telling anyone, that the proposals are not something they will be considering at the moment. Why? Because civil rights folk will go mental and opposition MPs will use it to win political capital. And, oh yes, isn't there a general election coming up soon?

Not that the oppressive, undemocratic, abusive and illegal proposals are to be binned. If we're lucky enough to get Jack Straw as Home Secretary again, we may well see a watered-down version pop up in the Commons.

Last night, we were fortunate enough to be in the company of a good many experts and activists in this field and discussed the matter with them. There was general concern over the report. The fact that the proposals fit very neatly with the RIP Act - detailed logs of suspicious calls, obtained legally, could then be used as justification for invoking RIP legislation, thereby bypassing the safeguards - is enough for Caspar Bowden (Director, Foundation for Information Policy Research) to conclude that the security services had pre-planned this approach.

Roland Perry, CEO of the London Internet Exchange, Linx, surprised us by saying he had had a copy of the report for several months. He saw the report as a speculative effort by the National Criminal Intelligence Service and not to be taken too seriously, although he did admit that the leaked version appeared final in its make-up.

Some debate concerned the suggested cost of the programme. Storage is becoming cheaper and smaller, the report said. It then gave a figure of £20,000 to £25,000 for the annual cost to a Communications Service Provider of storing the data. Quite rightly, the report pointed out that the real cost of the system comes in retrieving the information. Then, basing its calculations on the DNA Database, it suddenly came up with the figure of £9 million a year to run the whole show, with a £3 million initial infrastructure investment. This was broadly seen as conservative.

Which brings us to Conservative peer Lord Cope of Berkeley, who was responsible for getting many of the amendments for the RIP Bill through. Naturally, the dapper gent would not be drawn, suffice to say he was "concerned" and would look at the issue very closely.

Ex MI5 spook David Shayler told us that everyone in the security services would have been "aware" of what the report contained months before publication, before telling us that Brian Clough would have been a great England manager but was held back by being too northern.

Some time was given to the fact that what the report requests already happens informally with BT. BT, for some reason, keeps billing records and logs for five years, whereas nearly all other telecoms companies delete them several months or so down the line, as the data costs more than its intrinsic value to store. The long storage period was seen as a classic example of BT's lack of business sense. BT is happy however - so we were reliably informed - to allow the security services full access to this data when requested.

All that aside, the report does give a valuable insight into NCIS' mind. It sees the issue as bringing the power for it to secure evidence for prosecution up to the level of its power to make a prosecution. Thanks to RIP though, it has managed to get a large, disparate group of people together to fight such proposals, all of which will be watching the progress of the report very carefully. ®

Related Link

The report in full on Cryptome

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