Snoopers Charter

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Move to fast-track snooper’s charter in wake of Terrorist attacks

On BBC4’s Radio Today show earlier in the week, the Prime Minister said,
“I think we should look at the timetable” of the planned investigatory powers bill that is due to be debated by MPs in the coming weeks.

If passed it will be made law this year and would give the Government power to bulk collect data on everyone. Dubbed the snooper’s charter by critics, the bill would force  Internet service providers and mobile phone companies to maintain records of each user’s internet browsing activity, email correspondence, voice calls, internet gaming, and mobile phone messaging services and store the records for 12 months.

Retention of email and telephone contact data for this time is already required by the Data Retention Regulations act of 2014. The anticipated cost of enacting the new bill is £1.8 billion.

Many publications have featured articles calling for enhanced powers or a fast tracking of the bill in order to prevent similar attacks in Britain.

France passed a similar law following the Charlie Hebdo shooting earlier in the year. These extended powers were, however, unable to thwart Saturday’s attacks.

This is the crux of the issue, any self-respecting criminal or terrorist these days is fully aware of how easily traceable their activities are online and are now communicating through more sophisticated means.

Tor is a programme that lets users access the deep web, which includes communication tools and according to the developers is,

“Free software and an open network that helps you defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security.”

It is easily accessible with a quick google search and users can be up and running in minutes.

Ander, a moderator of the Tor subreddit said,

“Tor appeals to multiple groups of people: Programmers and cryptography experts, Privacy enthusiasts and political activists, Fraudsters and hackers, Pedophiles and other sexual deviants, Drug users and dealers, Pirates and censorship evaders, Law enforcement, Conspiracy theorists, the mentally ill and anyone else who wishes to conceal their communications and browsing habits.

“There are of course crossovers between the different groups. For example, some of the drug markets are run by credit card fraudsters. Some of the hackers aren’t fraudsters but are anarchists or pirates instead. The paedophiles tend to be privacy enthusiasts for obvious reasons, but the reverse isn’t usually true. Some drug marketplaces sell hacked accounts or services, some don’t. In general, each group hangs out in different places.”

With the ease of access to Tor and similar services, how effective can the proposed bill be in providing actionable intelligence for the security services? Your average radical hell bent on global jihad is hardly setting up his dastardly plan via Facebook messages or twitter DMs.

Aside from its effectiveness, many questions remain around how the bill would be implemented. Matthew Hare, The Chief Executive of Gigaclear, one of the largest internet service providers in the UK, told a Commons select committee that the legislation has not taken into account the large amounts of data generated by an average internet user.

Hare, who co-chairs the Internet Service Providers’ Association with James Blessing, warned the cost of storing a year’s worth of communications data for providers could go substantially beyond the £175 million set aside by the government. He said,

“On a typical one-gigabit connection we see over 15TB of data per year passing over that connection. If you say that a proportion of that is going to be the communications data, it’s going to be the most massive amount of data that you’d be expected to keep in the future.

“The indiscriminate collection of mass data is going to have a massive cost,”

Blessing was then asked by Labour MP Jim Dowd about whether the proposals in their current form were feasible, to which he replied it was “very feasible – with an infinite budget”.

The bill is also causing some firms to consider leaving the UK if it gets through parliament. Earlier this year when the bill was first being discussed Eris Industries an industrial cryptography firm said they would relocate all staff out with the United Kingdom and encouraged other tech firms to do the same.

Preston Byrne COO said,
“The surveillance powers… are completely unnecessary and, more often than not, are justified by statistics which have little basis in fact.”

With seemingly indiscriminate cuts coming to government departments across the board, is the massive cost of this bill justifiable in spite of the implications regarding its effectiveness?

The attacks in Paris can only be described as abhorrent and the thought of a similar attack on our shores, equally so. Knee-jerk reactions based more so on emotions than facts, however, are not the answer to a wildly complicated issue.


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