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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Snooper's Charter faces technical questions

I have written here many times on the principled objections to the Tory Government's Snooper's Charter, however only a small amount of attention has been paid to the technical feasibility of this proposal.

The investigatory powers bill includes not only the expected snooper’s charter, enabling the tracking of everyone’s web and social media use, but also moves to strengthen the security services’ warranted powers for the bulk interception of the content of communications.

This is the sort of mass surveillance that the Liberal Democrats spent five years fighting against. It will undermine the rights of every citizen in the UK in an untargeted sweep of all our communications data, using up valuable resources that might be better concentrated on the warranted surveillance of genuine suspects.

Today's Guardian says that Britain’s biggest phone and web companies have now raised serious questions over the cost and feasibility of their delivering the legislation. They say that senior figures from BT, Vodafone, 02 Telefonica, EE and 3 have told MPs and peers that the proposals from the home secretary in the draft investigatory powers bill are so technically complex that it is not yet possible to make any meaningful estimate of the costs involved or whether they are technically possible.

Their main concerns focus on the Home Office’s estimate that new powers requiring the companies to retain internet connection records – simplified versions of everyone’s web browsing history – will cost only £174m over the next 10 years.

They believe that the £174m figure, will prove to be a serious underestimate and have warned that it will take at least 18 months, long after the legislation has reached the statute book, before they know whether it will be technically feasible to retain and store everybody’s internet connection records:

Senior figures from all the phone companies told MPs and peers on the draft bill scrutiny committee that it might be possible to develop the technical capability to collect everyone’s internet connection records. “The technology does not exist at the moment … We are at the feasibility stage and it will take 18 months before we find a solution.” They said that until the Home Office could precisely define its requirements it was very difficult to speculate on the feasibility or the costs involved. “You cannot underestimate the complexity,” one senior executive told MPs and peers.

Do I foresee yet another disastrous Government-led ICT project?
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