Feeds

UK's web super-snoop powers could be extended to councils

'We don't know what we don't know yet'

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

The UK Border Agency (UKBA), local councils and other bodies have until the end of next week to justify their right to access citizens' communications records.

Home Secretary Theresa May appeared to offer a minor concession to civil liberties campaigners by considering excluding various public organisations from her proposed internet surveillance law.

This is despite the fact that those selected authorities asked to see private communications data roughly 5,000 times in 2011, far fewer than the 500,000 attempts made by spooks, police agencies and the taxman in the same year.

Public bodies were privately told by the Home Office that they have until 20 July to come up with compelling reasons as to why the draft law - if approved by Parliament - should grant them continued access to citizens' communications records.

Local authorities already have powers to pry into this data thanks to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). But an amendment due later this year will restrict their access to sensitive information. This follows apparent misuse of the law by councils to investigate minor offences.

Arguably, however, the local councils could see their surveillance powers widened by secondary legislation - which allows the government to change the law after it is passed, if the wording of the act allows this.

During the second half of a joint select committee hearing of MPs and peers, who are scrutinising May's Communications Data Bill, it was revealed by UKBA's director of operational intelligence Gillian McGregor that the Home Office had asked an unspecified number of public bodies to offer up their own business case.

She explained that the Border Agency will submit its application on the reasons why it needed access to comms data – which includes subscriber information, usage and traffic data – to the Home Office, before adding: "It [the right to access the data] could happen through secondary legislation."

Other public body representatives, who were also on the panel giving evidence on Thursday, echoed that comment.

Paul Bettison of the Local Government Association (LGA) said the Home Office had suggested an explanation as to why councils should be able to gain access to comms data. He dismissed accusations that local authority officials had abused their RIPA powers, who said he wanted to "dispel the myths that we've been frivolous in the past".

Bettison told the select committee, which is chaired by Lord Blencathra, that there was "significant confusion" about the bill.

He added: "It would be helpful to have a clear message from the government on this."

The Financial Services Authority was represented on the panel by its legal head of enforcement, Daniel Thornton, who admitted: "We would prefer not to have to make a business case."

Unsurprisingly, all of the public bodies present at the hearing on Thursday were quick to trot out examples of why access to communications data was not simply their desire, but had in fact become "essential" to battling crime in the digital age.

Thornton said the FSA was seeing "more and more sophisticated techniques" being employed by criminals. He gave the examples of secure websites, disposable mobile phones and self-destructing USB devices as examples of what he perceived to be a rapidly changing landscape.

UKBA's McGregor agreed, adding that "serious criminals are making increasing use of a more sophisticated internet" adding that said crooks were also using "smartphone techniques".

Meanwhile Nick Tofiluk – director of regulatory operations at the Gambling Commission – who was also present on the panel pointed to the complexity of P2P gaming platforms that are used on an "international basis".

He tautologically added: "We don't know what we don't know yet."

On the issue of a warrant system being used when public bodies wanted access to comms data, both McGregor and Thornton said it would prove a hindrance to their investigations both for reasons of cost and potential delay.

Application security programs and practises

More from The Register

next story
ONE EMAIL costs mining company $300 MEEELION
Environmental activist walks free after hoax sent share price over a cliff
Arrr: Freetard-bothering Digital Economy Act tied up, thrown in the hold
Ministry of Fun confirms: Yes, we're busy doing nothing
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
US judge: YES, cops or feds so can slurp an ENTIRE Gmail account
Crooks don't have folders labelled 'drug records', opines NY beak
UK government officially adopts Open Document Format
Microsoft insurgency fails, earns snarky remark from UK digital services head
You! Pirate! Stop pirating, or we shall admonish you politely. Repeatedly, if necessary
And we shall go about telling people you smell. No, not really
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
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.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.