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Coalition renames GCHQ internet spook-tech plans

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Home Secretary Theresa May said the Labour government's Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) is coming back to life.

In a speech to Parliament outlining a new counter-terror strategy, or at least its re-branding, May said the government's Counter Terrorism Strategy (aka CONTEST) will include a resurrected Interception Modernisation Programme.

The CONTEST document says: "Legislation will be brought forward to put in place the necessary regulations and safeguards to ensure that the response to this technology challenge [from terrorists using the internet] is compatible with the Government's approach to information storage and civil liberties."

Labour's original IMP was expected to cost £2bn and be based at GCHQ's Concrete Doughnut in Cheltenham. The work was farmed out to EDS – HP's services wing and specialist hoover of government cash. It was intended to make it easier for the spooks to cope with various difficulties they face in the modern era, for instance peer-to-peer communications services such as Skype or torrents.

The IMP plan was widely criticised at the time, which helped stall the project until after the election.

It would appear that IMP is now rebranded as the "Communications Capabilities Development Programme". Apart from P2P threats, this will also be aimed at tackling rapidly-improving encryption technology for voice and text mobile communication.

The Coalition will also push forward with e-borders. The government continues to negotiate with the European Commission over its draft directive because it ruled in 2009 that the UK's collection and storage of such data as a matter of course was illegal.

The Privy Council is looking at the use of intercept evidence in court. It has been looking at this since 2007.

In 2009 it decided it would not be possible to offer such evidence in court. The major stumbling block is providing an evidential framework – showing the court where the evidence came from without exposing the work of the security services. In January Theresa May asked the Council to look at this again.

The Home Office said: "We continue to see no evidence of systematic cyber terrorism. But the first recorded incident of a terrorist 'cyber' attack on corporate computer systems took place in 2010. The co called 'here you have' virus, (the responsibility for which was claimed by the Tariq bin Ziyad Brigades for Electronic Jihad) was relatively unsophisticated but a likely indicator of a future trend.

Officials cautioned that it was difficult to get a clear picture on use of the internet to radicalise people. It said experts' estimates of the number of such websites varied from several hundred to several thousand: "It is clear that a few dozen are highly influential and frequented by terrorists." ®

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