“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana, 1906
As far back as 2006 the Surveillance Studies Network described the UK as being ‘the most surveilled country’ among the industrialized Western states.
In March 2009 I blogged about the implementation of the EU directive on data retention among ISPs and how that related to a government project known then as the Interception Modernisation Programme. This initiative was aimed at collating, aggregating and storing every text, email and telephone call made and every website visited, by every person in the UK. The page I linked to in that old blog post has disappeared, along with almost any mention of the initiative on the Home Office site (apart from this PDF). The project was apparently shelved due to a lack of public support (shocker, I know).
When in opposition, the Conservative party (the senior partner in the current coalition government in the UK) opposed the plans, citing the Labour party’s “reckless” record on privacy.
However no news is not always good news. This particular beast was not dead, only sleeping. It has risen again, with a new name and an even wider remit to snoop. The new plans, now known as the “Communications Capabilities Development programme” (sounds a bit nicer doesn’t it?) have apparently broadened in scope to include not only SMS, telephone, email and web site data, but also apparently “instant messaging, texting, social networking or online gaming generate communications data”
No legislation has yet been announced, but the Home Office is very clear that associated legislation will be announced in Parliament “in due course“.
If your national or local postal service were to open and check every letter you sent in order to keep a record of whom you correspond with, would you not be outraged? What if the postal service then made all this information available to over 600 public bodies such as local councils and police forces on request?
The Home Office insist that this information is vital for fighting crime and terrorism; but is this legislation really going to be effective against the people at whom it is supposedly aimed?
If national governments and law enforcement organisations truly believe that online criminals and international terrorists don’t know how to hide their online traces, then we have a bigger problem than we thought (sending an encrypted email with spoofed sender address from an Internet café is only lesson one).
On the other hand, if those same governments and law enforcement organisations are actually fully aware of the ease with which online crime is perpetrated, and online traces hidden, then wouldn’t it have made more sense to take the time, money and technology necessary for a scheme of this magnitude and direct it towards a more worthy cause? To a few more online police on the Internet beat and to building international standards that truly work and are truly global in remit instead of the paltry £30 million (over 4 years) dedicated to investigating and combating cybercrime?
Keep your ear to the ground on this issue and if you have a view, make it known to your local democratic representative.