Feeds

MPs launch probe of massive net snooping project

Unrealistic, disproportionate and misleading, experts say

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

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.

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Hello, police, El Reg here. Are we a bunch of terrorists now?
Do Brits risk arrest for watching beheading video nasty? We asked the fuzz
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
Felony charges? Harsh! Alleged Anon hackers plead guilty to misdemeanours
US judge questions harsh sentence sought by prosecutors
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten'
Don't pretend it's a freedom of speech issue – interim commish
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
This'll end well: US govt says car-to-car jibber-jabber will SAVE lives
Department of Transportation starts cogs turning for another wireless comms standard
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Rethinking backup and recovery in the modern data center
Combining intelligence, operational analytics, and automation to enable efficient, data-driven IT organizations using the HP ABR approach.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.