A lot of people were surprised to see a story from the BBC and from ITV claiming that the government plan to monitor and store details of electronic communications of everyone in the UK, including emails, web pages browsed, text messages and telephone calls. Many have decided that it cannot be true, especially as it appeared on the 1st of April.
Sadly, it is true and it is not a new idea. The plan was written about in The Telegraph last month but the plans are much older than that. The last Labour government, lover of all things authoritarian, came up with the Interception Modernisation Programme which in its original form would have had details of all electronic communications sent to a central government database. When the government eventually realised that this would be completely impractical they shifted the work to the service providers, who would all have to keep the details of the communications travelling through their networks and give the government access to their database at all times. The service providers realised just how much this would cost and so the government committed £2 billion to cover those costs over ten years. The plan was heavily criticised by the Conservatives, who published a paper titled Reversing the rise of the surveillance state. (Which is still on their website.) It was also criticised back then by the London School of Economics. The plan was shelved in 2009 after opposition from communications service providers and a realisation that it would not be popular with the public.
After the election, though, the Conservatives decided to resurrect the plan, giving it a new name, the Communications Capabilities Development Programme. (CCDP) Questions were raised in 2010 by the Information Commissioner’s Office and it was mentioned in The New Statesman. Now the government are pushing ahead with the CCDP and the queen’s speech will say that they intend to introduce legislation to implement the programme as soon as possible.
There are many things wrong with this programme of spying. It is impractical, expensive, a huge violation of our privacy, it places too much power in the hands of government, a government who we cannot trust. Making the full details of who talks to who available will allow security personnel to trawl through our data on fishing trips instead of requiring some basis for suspicion. Combined with the database for Universal Credit, which will be almost as comprehensive as the National Identity Register that was criticised so much by the Conservatives, and the centralisation of medical records, this provides private information about us all to the government on an unprecedented scale with huge scope for abuse and for life-destroying mistakes.
If these plans scare you, please write to your MP to tell them your objection to the Communications Capabilities Development Programme. You can use WriteToThem.com to send it if you don’t have their details. Please sign the Open Rights Group’s petition against government snooping and maybe consider joining the group too.
You should also look at ways of concealing your communications. This works best when you hide everything, innocent or not so that nothing is suspicious. I have written in the past about TOR from the point of view of helping other countries, but it is worth a read giving consideration to using it to protect your own privacy. The more technical might consider reading my thoughts on the concept of a paranoid computer.
- Email and web use ‘to be monitored’ under new laws [BBC]
- Legislation to let Government read our emails and texts [ITV]
- Expansion of GCHQ internet monitoring proposed [The Independant]
- Government plans increased email and social network surveillance [The Guardian]
Here are news stories from before the 1st of April, for those who refuse to believe it.
- Phone and email records to be stored in new spy plan [The Telegraph]
- Government spy programme will monitor every phone call, text and email… and details will be kept for up to a year [Daily Mail]
- Plan to monitor emails will not work, says LSE [Guardian]
- Coalition renames GCHQ internet spook-tech plans [The Register]
- A U-turn on reversing the surveillance state [New Statesman]