Feeds

Jacqui's secret plan to 'Master the Internet'

'Climb down' on central database was 'a sideshow'

Spy chiefs are already spending hundreds of millions of pounds on a mass internet surveillance system, despite Jacqui Smith's announcement earlier this week that proposals for a central warehouse of communications data had been dumped on privacy grounds.

The system - uncovered today by The Register and The Sunday Times - is being installed under a GCHQ project called Mastering the Internet (MTI). It will include thousands of deep packet inspection probes inside communications providers' networks, as well as massive computing power at the intelligence agency's Cheltenham base, "the concrete doughnut".

Sources with knowledge of the project said contracts have already been awarded to private sector partners.

One said: "In MTI, computing resources are not measured by the traditional capacities or speeds such as Gb, Tb, Megaflop or Teraflop... but by the metric tonne!.. and they have lots of them."

The American techology giant Lockheed Martin is understood to have bagged a £200m deal. The BAE-owned British firm Detica, which has close links to MI5 and MI6, as well as to GCHQ, has also been signed up to help on MTI.

A spokeswoman for GCHQ said the agency does not comment on individual contracts. "GCHQ works with a broad range of industry partners to deliver a complex portfolio of technical projects," she said. Detica also declined to comment, and Lockheed Martin did not return calls.

Sources said MTI received approval and funding of more than £1bn over three years in the October 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review. GCHQ, like MI5 and MI6, is funded out of the opaque Single Intelligence Account. For 2007/8 the planned budget for the three agencies was over £1.6bn.

GCHQ began work on MTI soon after it was approved. Records of job advertising by the agency show that in April 2008 it was seeking a Head of Major Contracts with "operational responsibility for the ‘Mastering the Internet’ (MTI) contract". The new senior official was to be paid an annual salary of up to £100,000.

The advertisement also indicated that the head of Major Contracts would be in charge of procurement on MTI and be expected to forge close links with the private sector.

According to sources, MTI is a core piece of the government's Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP). On Monday of last week, the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that under IMP, rather than build a central warehouse, responsibility for storing details of who contacts whom, when and where will be imposed on communications providers.

The news was welcomed by privacy advocates and civil liberties campaigners, but sources described it as a "side show" compared to the massively increased surveillance capability that MTI will deliver. It will grant intelligence staff in Cheltenham complete visibility of UK Internet traffic, allowing them to remotely configure their deep packet inspection probes to intercept data - both communications data and the communication content - on demand.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "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."

GCHQ's spokeswoman said: "GCHQ does not discuss 'how' we use data, as this may lead to revelations about our capability which damage national security.

"GCHQ is constantly updating its systems in order to maintain and renew its capability."

Advocates of MTI and IMP say they are essential if intelligence agencies are to maintain their capability to monitor terrorist and other criminal networks.

A Home Office consultation on the storage of communications data is now open. Meanwhile, work and spending on the all-seeing system to intercept and retrieve it is already underway. ®

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.