UK 'to announce' real-time phone, email, Web traffic monitoring

UK 'to announce' real-time phone, email, Web traffic monitoring

Summary: UK government plans to allow the intelligence services analyse call, email and Web traffic in "real-time" could be announced by the Queen as early as May.

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Editors note: Despite this being April 1, or 'April Fools Day', this story is not a fabrication nor a joke. For background to this story, head this way.

Under new UK legislation, Internet service and broadband providers will be obligated to pass personal browsing, email and call data to the intelligence services for real-time processing.

"Internet firms" could also include social networks and search engines, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google --- all of which have a presence in the UK --- along with broadband providers. Access to ISP logs will be opened up to the government on-demand.

The 'third' UK intelligence service, GCHQ, the signals and electronics eavesdropping station based in Cheltenham, currently process call, web, and email data, such as when communications were made, but not the contents of such data.

ISPs, however, do process this data at their facilities and datacenters. These new plans would force ISPs to 'mirror' all traffic through GCHQ allowing for more detailed inspection on a law enforcement level to quickly process information as it happens.

A Home Office spokesperson confirmed the upcoming legislation could be implemented as "soon as parliamentary time allows".

"It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public," a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

"Communications data includes time, duration and dialling numbers of a phone call, or an email address. It does not include the content of any phone call or email and it is not the intention of Government to make changes to the existing legal basis for the interception of communications."

Currently under UK law, GCHQ along with police and other law enforcement agencies, would have to present a Home Secretary-issued or court-ordered search warrant to ISPs to force to hand over the data for inspection.

The new legislation would still require a search warrant to access the specific details of calls, emails and Web activity. Such personal content can still be requested under a search warrant presented to the ISP, though GCHQ will not process this data automatically.

But it will allow the intelligence services to trace people's communications with others, who they are contacting, and how often for.

The “contact not content” rule applies in that police, law enforcement and intelligence services are interested in who people communicate with, rather than the contents of the communication itself.

But the new measures would force ISPs to install routing hardware in their facilities to open up access to GCHQ as and when it is necessary.

The legislation is expected to be announced at the Queen's Speech in May. The speech is the only communication the Queen gives that is not written by her. It is written by legislators, specifically at Downing Street, the home and office of the prime minister.

The previous Labour government pushed for similar legislation --- a time post the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York, and the July 7 London bombings. In hindsight, it seemed like a breach of civil liberties, in an age where subjective anti-social behaviour (ASBO) injunctions could prevent individuals from doing certain things along with when and in specific places, and control orders would impose 'house arrest' like sanctions on suspected terrorists.

The proposals were shot down by the then opposition Conservative government, but now in power seek to bring these plans into law by the end of the year.

Image credit: Carolina Alves/Flickr.

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Topics: Telcos, Broadband, Browser, Collaboration, Government, Government US, Hardware, Networking

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9 comments
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  • About time, NSA gave them the blueprints years ago ...

    The UK has never even made the pretense of following the EU privacy laws, much less their own internal regulations. I have to give them credit that they are actually admitting the taps, the US Government has never formally admitted the NSA taps, even though they have been well documented at AT&T and Verizon switching centers.
    terry flores
    • How is retroactive immunity anything but a formal admission?

      Retroactive immunity was provided to the telecoms by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act of 2008. This legislation was passed by both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. It was signed into law by the U.S. President.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Rotten to the core

    I propose we all drive to London and fill up with petrol by way of protest.
    Wandering Minstrel
  • Something new

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    CastanedaHarry27
  • The Pretence of Democracy

    Zack's article is excellent but misses out on a couple of points. Firstly via the U.S.'s UKUSA underground communications complex at Menwith Hill on the Yorkshire moors Near Harrogate ALL our communications (landline, microwave, mob, satellite etc) have been keyword sifted by supercomputers for the past twenty years. We never had any privacy anyway! The problem 'they' have now is that the sheer volume of data traffic on the net is over-running analysis capacity. It is rumoured that when the new MI6 building was recently completed on the banks of the Thames in London it incorporated hard-wired taps into the Docklands computer nexus (which routes all ISP traffic in the U.K.) The idea of this new legislation would appear to be to make ISPs install the extra capacity and storage on the state's behalf and will most probably involve a pre-search keyword algorithm of the same type as that used at Menwith Hill. http://www.yorkshirecnd.org.uk/archived_site/web/mh/

    The women's movement had a peace camp to highlight the illegal activities at Menwith Hill throughout the 1990s and were victimised by the state, some being sent to prison for their principles http://www.thefword.org.uk/features/2003/09/from_greenham_to_menwith_the_womens_peace_campaign_at_menwith_hill
    Due respect to these courageous people.

    There are some awful, violent people out there and state security is a neccessary evil providing their are checks on it's misuse. The real problem is the easy accessibility of this information to other, speculative areas of policing where basically anyone can get their hands on it (viz the phone hacking scandal) and experience has shown that there is no security system which can overcome the 'old-boy' network. There MUST be a revamp of the Data protection act to bring it up to date with protecting personal privacy in today's fast-moving IT world. #arnold_frampton
    arnoldframpton
  • EU Data Protection Law

    Doesn't this contravene the EU data protection laws?

    I know the German Government wanted to do something similar, but the German Courts knocked that back as being illegal and unconstitutional.
    wright_is
    • Re: EU Data Protection Law

      The argument is that the data collected is who you communicate with and not what you communicate about. So, for example, it's okay to search for a list of citizens who read lots of websites on how to cope with losing a leg, but not for a list of citizens who have recently lost a leg. No, not the same at all honest, guv.

      I wonder what this is doing for Davis' odds as next tory leader?
      Wandering Minstrel
      • Who is important...

        It is the "who" that is protected!

        If the information gathered can uniqely identify a person (E.g. personal E-Mail address - fred.blogs@company.com and not sales@company.com), then there are very strict rules about collecting that sort of information and passing it on.
        wright_is
      • If you aren't doing anything wrong you've nothing to fear

        These spurrious justifications have been injected into the debate and foolishly taken up by many people who are so afeared of Islamic terrorists (fear created in large measure by the state) that they are allowing their government to oppress them.
        On the slippery slope principle any state which says it 'only' wants to identify and surveill urls is lying. Once they have the legislation in place they will, without doubt, increase it to cover keyword scanning of content. History proves this is ALWAYS the case. What is required is a complete revamp of the Data protection Act to work to protect the privacy of citizens and make government respect it. Privacy should be sacrosanct as it is a primordial freedom which is much undervalued in our exhibitionist society. The state must show good and firm cause to interfere with anyone's privacy otherwise our democracy will turn into a tyranny. "Government for the people, by the people". The fact that we all agree that violent people should be stopped is NOT a firm cause to interfere with everyone else's privacy. It's the equivalent of the completely ineffectual, demeaning and undignified searching of old ladies, people in wheelchairs, elderly white males and small children in airport security. Everyone has to suffer for some imagined risk. Imposing these indignities upon the rest of the population can actually be seen as a win for the terrorists and, let it be noted, the majority of terrorist attempts have been foiled by passengers themselves, not security screenings! @arnold_frampton
        arnoldframpton