The UK Government’s INTERCEPTION MODERNISATION PROGRAMME (IMP) is to be resurrected less than 6 months after the coalition promised to scrap it.
Alarm bells started to ring when the Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review (pdf, published 19 October) contained the following government commitment to:
“introduce a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications within the appropriate legal framework… We will legislate to put in place the necessary regulations and safeguards to ensure that our response to this technology challenge is compatible with the Government’s approach to information storage and civil liberties.” [emphasis added]
The fact that the announcement came through the Defence Review and not the National Security Strategy: A Strong Britain in an Age of Uncertainty (pdf, published 18 October) indicates that GCHQ’s (Government Communications Headquarters, the UK’s equivalent to the USA NSA electronic spying agency) long-held demand to run the £12 billion Interception Modernisation Programme is back on the agenda.
The UK was the architect of the EU Data Retention Directive – which mandates storage of only basic first party session data and came into full force last year – and is legally obliged to continue to comply with it. The IMP however vastly upgraded that directive and was gold plated by GCHQ for implementation in the UK.
Work is already under-way in the form of “remote searches” of computer equipment, and reports of the development of Trojans and likely more exotic techniques by police and intelligence agencies continue to surface across the world (see, for example, legal concern over such techniques in Germany), so one wonders whether this GCHQ plan is not so much to do with need, rather than to keep up.
See: Green light for spooks’ net snoop plan (The Register,link)
“The coalition government has approved a multibillion-pound plan by the intelligence agencies to store details of every online conversation.
The reemerging Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) means internet providers will be forced to install interception equipment in their networks to capture details of who contacts whom, when, where and how via services such as Facebook, Skype, webmail, and online games.
Note 1: The ability to “intercept” communications as they happen in “real-time” (which only GCHQ can do) is quite distinct from the existing powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) which only covers obtaining access to communication data: See Interception figures: 1937-2009 (pdf).
Note 2: the Interception Modernisation Programme will also have the ability to collect and store records covering e-mails, faxes, phone-calls, mobile-phone calls (including location), Internet usage (including content) plus IP based communications used by Facebook, Skype etc.
Note 3: Background: LSE: Briefing on the Interception Modernisation Programme (pdf) and Database state (pdf)
Under the most likely scenario, Deep Packet Inspection technology will be configured by GCHQ to grab such data from passing traffic and store it in vast silos run by communications providers. The same technology will also allow for the content of communications to be intercepted”
The very least that is required here is a full, frank and open debate in parliament, not just about the perceived and actual needs for such intrusive methods, but also on the proportionality and the legal safeguards to guarantee that civil liberties are maintained and not eroded further.
But there is a greater concern in the light of the announcements of cuts in the SDSR, where the conventional military is being seriously eroded. With the reintroduction of IMP and other cybersecurity initiatives, that UK Defence thinking is now increasingly looking inwards. It is a type of thinking which has always been an historical sign of repressive authoritarian regimes, where the systems, controls and eventually the guns will be trained not on an enemy, but at its own citizens.
H/T & thanks to Statewatch