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Top spook: ISP black boxes NOT key to UK's web-snoop plan

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'Necessary and proportionate' mantra bandied around

Farr told the committee that anything between 500 and 1,000 communication data requests could be submitted for an average murder investigation in the UK. He further explained that criminals would use multiple comms devices and, for example, regularly ditch mobile phones to avoid being sniffed out by police or spooks.

When asked if function-creep would seep into the legislation if successfully passed by Parliament in its current form, Farr said:

The application process is a thorough and very serious bit of work. An applying officer has to seek authority in written form... it has to consider collateral intrusion and needs to be signed off by a senior member of the police force.

Farr said that currently, there was a roughly 25 per cent shortfall on information that spooks and police couldn't get their hands on. He was asked what proportion of that data involved concealment.

"Not very much," the security man responded. "If you have the right kind of data, issues of anonymisation cease to be a problem.

"If people take greater efforts at anonymisation, it could become a problem... but I'm satisfied by the techniques being developed. Many workarounds can be defeated... we are not proposing this law on the grounds that it will provide 100 per cent coverage of the communications data in this country."

Farr admitted "there will still be workarounds" but claimed by 2018 that that gap could be tightened with a new law.

The joint committee of MPs and peers expressed concerns about what parliamentary oversight would be put in place for the proposed legislation.

"I would emphasise that the definition of comms data is set out in existing legislation and there's no change here," Farr said, with subscriber, service and traffic data providing the "essential context" in which such information would be sought.

Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert asked exactly how the estimated £1.8bn price tag for the scheme over the next 10 years had been calculated. "Assumes lots of DPI?" he quizzed.

"It assumes doing some of it," Farr agreed.

Alcock then added that the majority of the costs were related to data retention – with over 50 per cent of that cash being set aside for storage.

Opponents of the bill face the joint committee later today. ®

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