Anger over mass web surveillance plans

Government slammed over rebranding of spy system to monitor web traffic

Stewart Mitchell
20 Feb 2012

Government plans to resuscitate an internet surveillance scheme have angered civil rights campaigners.

Under the plans – a rehash of the previously shelved Intercept Modernisation Programme, which was criticised by both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives when in opposition – ISPs and other communications providers would be asked to keep detailed logs of calls, emails and text messages.

Although the logs would exclude the contents of such messages, security officials would be able to put together a picture of when and where a message was sent, and who the sender and receiver was.

According to a report in The Telegraph, the scheme would also keep records of direct messages between Twitter users, as well as messages between online gamers. It could be used in real-time if required.

The automatic recording and tracing of everything done online by anyone, just in case it might come in useful to the authorities later, is beyond the dreams of any past totalitarian regime

The plans came under fire from civil liberties campaigners, who claim the scheme would amount to an expensive invasion of privacy, and that data collection should be restricted to specific cases and individuals where a crime is suspected.

“The automatic recording and tracing of everything done online by anyone - of almost all our communications and much of our personal lives, shopping and reading - just in case it might come in useful to the authorities later, is beyond the dreams of any past totalitarian regime, and beyond the current capabilities of even the most oppressive states,” said Guy Herbert, general secretary of rights group NO2ID.

Slating costs of an estimated £2bn, Herbert said the fact that authorities could access the information would inevitably lead to more requests to inspect records.

"Something that aims to make surveillance easy will create a demand for surveillance,” he said. “Unless it is subject to proper controls from the beginning, then the pretexts for access will multiply. That would mean the end of privacy.”

Queen's Speech

According to The Telegraph's sources, ministers were planning to allocate legislative time to the programme, renamed the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP), and pushed for by MI5, MI6 and GCHQ.

Many had hoped the scheme had been buried by the Government, which had gained considerable mileage when in opposition from criticising Labour's similar plans which were eventually shelved.

The Conservatives at the time blasted Labour as “reckless” over its data plans and said it would collect fewer details and make them available on a stricter basis.

“Labour’s online surveillance plans have hardly changed but have been rebranded," said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group. "They are just as intrusive and offensive.”

Home Office confirmation

The Home Office confirmed it planned to put the scheme in place in order to protect the public under last year's Strategic Defence and Security Review

"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 told PC Pro in a statement.

"We meet regularly with the communications industry to ensure that capability is maintained without interfering with the public's right to privacy.

"As set out in the Strategic Defence and Security Review we will legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows to ensure that the use of communications data is compatible with the Government's approach to civil liberties.”

Read more about: