Feeds

UK gov admits gamble on massive net snoop plan

IMP bets £2bn on non-existent horse

The essential guide to IT transformation

Exclusive The Home Office has privately conceded that its plan to store details of every internet communication may not be possible - and that it has pinned the multibillion pound project's hopes on snooping technology not yet developed.

Officials working on the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) made the admission last week in a meeting with the internet industry, according to correspondence seen by The Register.

Under IMP, intelligence and law enforcement agencies aim to capture information on who contacts whom, when and where from any social network, chat room, VoIP service or other, as-yet-undeveloped communications application.

An ongoing Home Office consultation, published in April, proposes that access providers store and process the terabytes of data such a system would harvest daily, at a cost to taxpayers of £2bn over 10 years. It argues authorities' capability to access communications data during investigations and intelligence gathering is being eroded by the internet.

At last week's meeting, the Internet Service Provider's Association (ISPA) however raised concerns with officials that Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) technology - the equipment it is envisaged will tap into internet connections - is currently incapable of such ubiquitous surveillance.

In a leaked report on the meeting to members it said the Home Office representatives "agreed that there was not a simple solution but reported that they had seen some impressive commercial solutions in the market already."

ISPA said IMP officials had added that they expected the new laws needed to legitimise the system would take "a number of years" to pass, and that by that time technology will "hopefully have caught up with law enforcement requirements."

The government aims to extract coherent information about online behaviour from raw internet traffic. "The Programme indicated that it is interested in a broad range of communications data," ISPA told members.

"Including those that are included in the protocol (such as which location you visited in Second Life or the people you had conversations with on Facebook)."

The admission that the Home Office plans to spend billions on a project that relies on technology that does not exist is likely to be seized upon by opponents. A cross-party group of MPs and Lords will begin an inquiry into IMP on July 1, informed by a critical briefing published this week by the London School of Economics.

Professor Peter Sommer, an author of the briefing, said: "There is an astonishing contrast between the definite assertions in the Home Office consultation document and the answers officials have given to ISPA.

"The £2bn 'high level budgetary estimate of the economic costs' now appears to be for technology which currently does not exist but which it is hoped might be available once the desired new legislation is in place. It appears that the consultation document was published without much discussion about how the ambitions might practically be realised."

The Home Office said in a statement: "Technology is evolving and new innovative forms of internet based communications are emerging. If we do not make changes now to maintain existing capabilities and look ahead to the future, the police, security and intelligence agencies will no longer be able to use this data to fight crime.

"The implementation costs of the range of options discussed in the consultation document are estimated to be up to £2bn over a ten year roll-out period. The costs of maintaining these capabilities are more than justified by the costs of failure to implement."

ISPA said the meeting was part of its work on behalf of members to develop a formal response to the Home Office consultation. It declined to comment specifically on the technical doubts raised.

Aside from the central practical question of whether IMP goals are even possible, ISPA also raised the issue of encryption at the meeting last week. Mass take up of scrambling technology - which would render a lot of internet communications data unreadable by DPI probes - had been feared by government before, officials said, but did not materialise.

The meeting also discussed plans for infrastructure owners such as BT to collect data from customers of other providers using their networks. ISPA said this raised legal concerns that some firms might be able to gain commercial intelligence about rivals. The Home Office "accepted that this was a valid concern and agreed that legislation could prevent this".

ISPA plans a forum on the legal implications of IMP on July 1, the same day MPs and Lords are to hear evidence on the project. ®

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

More from The Register

next story
Munich considers dumping Linux for ... GULP ... Windows!
Give a penguinista a hug, the Outlook's not good for open source's poster child
UK fuzz want PINCODES on ALL mobile phones
Met Police calls for mandatory passwords on all new mobes
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
EU justice chief blasts Google on 'right to be forgotten'
Don't pretend it's a freedom of speech issue – interim commish
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
Detroit losing MILLIONS because it buys CHEAP BATTERIES – report
Man at hardware store was right: name brands DO last longer
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
prev story

Whitepapers

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
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.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.
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.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.