Feeds

MPs launch probe of massive net snooping project

Unrealistic, disproportionate and misleading, experts say

Top three mobile application threats

MPs and Lords will launch an investigation into the Home Office's £2bn plan to store details of every online communication, after a critical report by the London School of Economics branded it unrealistic, disproportionate and misleading.

Representatives from all sides of both Houses will use the report as the starting point of a probe into the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) in July.

The LSE's academics today questioned whether the government had fully appreciated the legal and democratic implications of IMP. They said thousands of planned Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) probes to harvest data on web browsing, email, VoIP calls and instant messenger conversations from inside ISP networks would blur the legislative and ethical lines between communications data and communications interception.

In its consultation document on IMP, published after delays in April, the Home Office emphasised that the system would only collect information on who contacts whom, when, where and how. It would not, then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said, monitor the content of communications.

Current legislation governing surveillance - the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) - draws a strong distinction between communications data and communications interception. The former requires only the approval of a senior law enforcement or intelligence officer, the latter a warrant signed by the Home Secretary. Officials aim to maintain the separation if IMP is implemented.

But according to Professor Peter Sommer, a leading expert witness on communications data and leader of the LSE research, DPI systems make that impossible. "RIPA is based on the old fashioned telephone," he said.

"With internet technology you have to collect everything and then throw away what the law does not allow you to have or use.

"We think that at a practical level, the communications data/interception distinction will be impossible to interpret both for ISPs and the courts. Moreover the existing balance of protections against abuse will also be lost."

His comments echo the concerns of Register sources over the past 12 months. Several have cited the example of a Facebook conversation: for authorities to discover who is at the other end the DPI equipment will have to look inside the content payload.

Such grey areas could spell trouble for prosecution cases, according to the LSE's report. The content of communications is currently inadmissable in court, so a defence might be able to make technical arguments against allowing evidence obtained via IMP.

Home Office, law enforcement and intelligence figures have argued throughout the debate on IMP that it will merely "maintain capability" for authorities to access communications data as internet technologies come to dominate electronic communication. That line was dismissed by the LSE researchers because advances in automated analysis would enable much more data to be interrogated than at present.

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
Putin tells Snowden: Russia conducts no US-style mass surveillance
Gov't is too broke for that, Russian prez says
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Record labels sue Pandora over vintage song royalties
Companies want payout on recordings made before 1972
Edward Snowden on his Putin TV appearance: 'Why all the criticism?'
Denies Q&A cameo was meant to slam US, big-up Russia
Lavabit loses contempt of court appeal over protecting Snowden, customers
Judges rule complaints about government power are too little, too late
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Don't let no-hire pact suit witnesses call Steve Jobs a bullyboy, plead Apple and Google
'Irrelevant' character evidence should be excluded – lawyers
EFF: Feds plan to put 52 MILLION FACES into recognition database
System would identify faces as part of biometrics collection
Ex-Tony Blair adviser is new top boss at UK spy-hive GCHQ
Robert Hannigan to replace Sir Iain Lobban in the autumn
Judge halts spread of zombie Nortel patents to Texas in Google trial
Epic Rockstar patent war to be waged in California
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.