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In the UK, much of the net backbone is actually controlled by just one company, British Telecom. Asked today if the company had been approached by government specifically in its role as an infrastructure provider - rather than a consumer ISP - a spokesman confirmed: "We have had discussions with the Home Office... no measures have been taken."

Many British ISPs do no more than resell BT's wholesale products, and even those offering local-loop-unbundled services are typically dependent on BT for other parts of their networks. If you want to start censoring the UK segment of the internet, BT is the company to talk to.

The company added that any new action "would need to be underpinned by appropriate legislation... sites would need to be monitored by law enforcement or an independent body. It is not our job to police the internet".

It remains very hard to see what the government can really do to prevent the dissemination of bomb-making instructions, propaganda, and such like. BT and the ISPs could block overseas websites, but almost certainly not as fast as they could be put up. Interesting stuff tends to be mirrored very fast, too; and it isn't hard to use relays such as Tor to effectively browse from a point overseas.

No machinery under the UK government's control needs to see anything other than a stream of encrypted traffic in order for a user located in Britain to merrily enter hardcore terrorist chatrooms, download bomb-making instructions, coordinate operations and all the rest.

Of course, real-world terrorists seldom exhibit even the very basic technical competence necessary to do this - or even bother to do a google search on "fuel-air explosion", for God's sake.

So, we've basically got two ways this could go.

One, the Brown cabinet are just grandstanding to technically ignorant voters. They won't do anything, safe in the knowledge that those voters will never realise this.

Or, two, the government actually plans to build a Chinese-style Great Firewall of Blighty which will prevent anyone looking at anything which says "jihadi" or "bomb" or "TATP" (whoops) etc. You'll probably be able to get round it if you know what you're doing, but it will be at the cost of slow, intermittent connections and possible, lengthy terror-powers detention without charge.

Let's hope they're just bullshitting. ®

Bootnote

*The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission says that: "Most [dirty bombs] would not release enough radiation to kill people or cause severe illness... However, depending on the scenario, a [dirty bomb] explosion could create fear and panic. Making prompt, accurate information available to the public could prevent the panic sought by terrorists."

Or, alternatively, you could tell people that the fact of a fool having dirty-bomb plans on his computer means he is a danger to us all.

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