Home Office presses ahead with web interception

A new directorate will work on the government's plan to monitor traffic details of all communications, including instant messaging and social-networking sites
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The government has signalled that it is going ahead with plans to force ISPs to intercept all web communications, despite serious criticisms of the scheme.

The Home Office has amalgamated two teams into a new directorate to work on the scheme, which is called the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP).

Before the amalgamation, the first team was working on traditional interception, such as phone tapping, while the second was working on the IMP and looking at the interception of new technologies such as instant messaging.

A Home Office spokesperson said on Friday that the two teams had been fused to form a new department, the Communications Capabilities Directorate (CCD).

"The Directorate will continue to consider the challenges posed by new technologies, working closely with communications service providers and others to bring forward proposals that command public confidence and demonstrate an appropriate balance between privacy and security," said the spokesperson.

Under the IMP, the Home Office hopes to compel ISPs to maintain web traffic data records. The records would allow law enforcement to pinpoint who was talking to whom, and when, across communications media such as email, instant messaging and social-networking sites. The monitoring is designed to be an anti-terrorism measure.

ISPs would be expected to keep records in such a way that the web communications of any UK resident could be linked to their mobile-phone records, to build a picture of their movements and associates.

Privacy campaigner Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International, told ZDNet UK that his organisation believed the IMP had been put on the back burner  following fierce criticism of the scheme by politicians, security experts and technologists.

"We were taken by surprise," said Davies. "We genuinely thought this little plan would be hosed down by ministers."

Davies reiterated earlier criticisms of the scheme, saying web technology and protocols were moving too fast for ISPs to be able to record web-communications traffic details.

"The government proposals are technologically unfeasible. This plan [IMP] relies on Web 2.0 remaining static, but it's a moveable feast," said Davies. "If the government thinks it can keep Web 2.0 static for long enough to reach into, they have another think coming."

Davies also criticised the IMP on civil liberties grounds, saying the plan went against UK data-protection principles, which state that data should only be collected on individuals when it is necessary and proportionate.

"Where is the evidence that this measure is justified, necessary or proportionate?" said Davies. "The Interception Modernisation Programme fails to recognise the balancing act of the expectations of the people and the desires of government, and needs to be tempered."

The IMP is an extension of the EU Data Rentention Directive, which requires ISPs to store customer data traffic relating to telephone and email communications.

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