MPs launch probe of massive net snooping project

Unrealistic, disproportionate and misleading, experts say


MPs and Lords will launch an investigation into the Home Office's £2bn plan to store details of every online communication, after a critical report by the London School of Economics branded it unrealistic, disproportionate and misleading.

Representatives from all sides of both Houses will use the report as the starting point of a probe into the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) in July.

The LSE's academics today questioned whether the government had fully appreciated the legal and democratic implications of IMP. They said thousands of planned Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) probes to harvest data on web browsing, email, VoIP calls and instant messenger conversations from inside ISP networks would blur the legislative and ethical lines between communications data and communications interception.

In its consultation document on IMP, published after delays in April, the Home Office emphasised that the system would only collect information on who contacts whom, when, where and how. It would not, then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said, monitor the content of communications.

Current legislation governing surveillance - the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) - draws a strong distinction between communications data and communications interception. The former requires only the approval of a senior law enforcement or intelligence officer, the latter a warrant signed by the Home Secretary. Officials aim to maintain the separation if IMP is implemented.

But according to Professor Peter Sommer, a leading expert witness on communications data and leader of the LSE research, DPI systems make that impossible. "RIPA is based on the old fashioned telephone," he said.

"With internet technology you have to collect everything and then throw away what the law does not allow you to have or use.

"We think that at a practical level, the communications data/interception distinction will be impossible to interpret both for ISPs and the courts. Moreover the existing balance of protections against abuse will also be lost."

His comments echo the concerns of Register sources over the past 12 months. Several have cited the example of a Facebook conversation: for authorities to discover who is at the other end the DPI equipment will have to look inside the content payload.

Such grey areas could spell trouble for prosecution cases, according to the LSE's report. The content of communications is currently inadmissable in court, so a defence might be able to make technical arguments against allowing evidence obtained via IMP.

Home Office, law enforcement and intelligence figures have argued throughout the debate on IMP that it will merely "maintain capability" for authorities to access communications data as internet technologies come to dominate electronic communication. That line was dismissed by the LSE researchers because advances in automated analysis would enable much more data to be interrogated than at present.

Similar topics


Other stories you might like

  • Prisons transcribe private phone calls with inmates using speech-to-text AI

    Plus: A drug designed by machine learning algorithms to treat liver disease reaches human clinical trials and more

    In brief Prisons around the US are installing AI speech-to-text models to automatically transcribe conversations with inmates during their phone calls.

    A series of contracts and emails from eight different states revealed how Verus, an AI application developed by LEO Technologies and based on a speech-to-text system offered by Amazon, was used to eavesdrop on prisoners’ phone calls.

    In a sales pitch, LEO’s CEO James Sexton told officials working for a jail in Cook County, Illinois, that one of its customers in Calhoun County, Alabama, uses the software to protect prisons from getting sued, according to an investigation by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

    Continue reading
  • Battlefield 2042: Please don't be the death knell of the franchise, please don't be the death knell of the franchise

    Another terrible launch, but DICE is already working on improvements

    The RPG Greetings, traveller, and welcome back to The Register Plays Games, our monthly gaming column. Since the last edition on New World, we hit level cap and the "endgame". Around this time, item duping exploits became rife and every attempt Amazon Games made to fix it just broke something else. The post-level 60 "watermark" system for gear drops is also infuriating and tedious, but not something we were able to address in the column. So bear these things in mind if you were ever tempted. On that note, it's time to look at another newly released shit show – Battlefield 2042.

    I wanted to love Battlefield 2042, I really did. After the bum note of the first-person shooter (FPS) franchise's return to Second World War theatres with Battlefield V (2018), I stupidly assumed the next entry from EA-owned Swedish developer DICE would be a return to form. I was wrong.

    The multiplayer military FPS market is dominated by two forces: Activision's Call of Duty (COD) series and EA's Battlefield. Fans of each franchise are loyal to the point of zealotry with little crossover between player bases. Here's where I stand: COD jumped the shark with Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. It's flip-flopped from WW2 to present-day combat and back again, tried sci-fi, and even the Battle Royale trend with the free-to-play Call of Duty: Warzone (2020), which has been thoroughly ruined by hackers and developer inaction.

    Continue reading
  • American diplomats' iPhones reportedly compromised by NSO Group intrusion software

    Reuters claims nine State Department employees outside the US had their devices hacked

    The Apple iPhones of at least nine US State Department officials were compromised by an unidentified entity using NSO Group's Pegasus spyware, according to a report published Friday by Reuters.

    NSO Group in an email to The Register said it has blocked an unnamed customers' access to its system upon receiving an inquiry about the incident but has yet to confirm whether its software was involved.

    "Once the inquiry was received, and before any investigation under our compliance policy, we have decided to immediately terminate relevant customers’ access to the system, due to the severity of the allegations," an NSO spokesperson told The Register in an email. "To this point, we haven’t received any information nor the phone numbers, nor any indication that NSO’s tools were used in this case."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021