Feeds

Home Office 'technologically clueless' on web super-snoop law

Ex-top cop, net experts trash real-time UK packet sniff

Mobile application security vulnerability report

Scrambling for Safety 2012 Computer experts, politicos, civil liberty campaigners and even a retired top cop universally agreed yesterday that the Home Office's real-time mass internet surveillance plan demonstrated just how "clueless" Theresa May's govt department is on implementing such a system.

Speaking at the Scrambling for Safety event at the London School of Economics, Tory backbencher David Davis repeated his condemnation of May's decision to resurrect and rebrand Labour's stalled Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) as the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP), once again labelling it a "snoopers' charter".

Any supporters of CCDP, which is expected to feature in the Queen's Speech on 9 May, remained very quiet during the debate. Instead computer boffins skewered the plan and questioned how the Home Office would define the difference between communications data and content online.

Digital forensics expert Peter Sommer said it was extremely difficult to separate out the two, and added that the Home Secretary should consider abandoning such a notion.

He also pointed out that it just isn't feasible to insert thousands of Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) probes into the country's infrastructure in order to monitor internet traffic in real-time. Sommer said that the amount of work to configure and constantly update such a system was overwhelming, and noted that many well-known websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google were now encrypting their pages with HTTPS.

Ross Anderson, a respected security engineering professor at the University of Cambridge, questioned how such a net-snooping law could be regulated. He predicted that the likes of Facebook and Google would agree to DPI black boxes being added to their networks, although others would demand a warrant or simply say "no".

Anderson added that ministers were "technologically clueless". The panel agreed that the issue of mass surveillance was not affiliated to one political party and that the Home Office is a department in the jaws of the Security Service.

"Home secretaries are all the same," Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said. She added: "This kind of blanket surveillance is not necessary in a civil society."

Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert meekly defended his party leader, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, by saying that he has insisted that the net-snooping bill arrives next month in draft form. He added that the "safeguards for access are far too weak" and called on any such legislation to come with clear requirements for a magistrate's, rather than a minister's, order.

Davis, a one-time shadow Home Secretary, told the assembled audience that he often hears ministers justifying the likes of a snoopers' charter by saying "if you knew what I know" and added that Prime Minister David Cameron didn't "understand the power of what is being talked about".

The MP warned: "The costs are not financial, they are costs in terms of liberty."

Even top cops rubbish 'snoopers' charter'

Perhaps the most interesting speaker at the event, however, was Sir Chris Fox - a top cop who served in the force for 34 years and is a former president of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). He agreed that mass surveillance simply wouldn't work.

Fox called on the Home Office to take a balanced approach towards such a plan and added that once data had been gathered it would inevitably be mined, leading to mistakes being made.

Chillingly, Fox said such a system "won't catch top-level criminals and terrorists because they'll stop using that process". He warned "there will be terrorist acts" but pointed out that such a fact needed to be balanced with living in a free society.

"I disagree with hoovering up of data," he told the audience and brought into question exactly what the security services would do with the mountain of intercepted information from everyone who lives in Blighty.

A retired Special Branch officer sitting in the audience also chimed in to attack May's CCDP bill. He explained that the Home Office was interested in "pre-emption" to "get to the bomber" before an atrocity occurred. He then pointed to the Toulouse gunman, who was tracked down by French police via an IP address of a computer the killer used to view a motorbike sales ad.

He said cops had "500 e-mail addresses linked to assassin but were overwhelmed and they couldn't stop him in time".

The erstwhile officer summed up the mood of the event by chiding UK government ministers who, he said, "haven't got a clue" about implementing such a net-snooping plan. ®

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

More from The Register

next story
Just TWO climate committee MPs contradict IPCC: The two with SCIENCE degrees
'Greenhouse effect is real, but as for the rest of it ...'
Adam Afriyie MP: Smart meters are NOT so smart
Mega-costly gas 'n' 'leccy totting-up tech not worth it - Tory MP
'Blow it up': Plods pop round for chat with Commonwealth Games tweeter
You'd better not be talking about the council's housing plans
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
Help yourself to anyone's photos FOR FREE, suggests UK.gov
Copyright law reforms will keep m'learned friends busy
Apple smacked with privacy sueball over Location Services
Class action launched on behalf of 100 million iPhone owners
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
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.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable
Learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.