UK's Home Secretary Says Terrorists Will Be The Real Winners If Country's Cell Coverage Dead Zones Are Fixed

from the 4G-means-four-times-the-terrorism dept

The UK’s culture secretary wants to eradicate the nation’s patchy cell phone coverage. UK cell phone users aren’t able to switch towers on the fly — something residents of other EU countries (as well as the US) enjoy — but are forced to connect only with their provider’s towers.

But Home Secretary Theresa May would rather UK citizens suffer through a plethora of dead zones (or “not spots” — the term of choice for these no-service areas) than put her country in harm’s way. According to an internal letter written by May, providing near-seamless coverage for UK phone users will open the door for increased terrorist activity.

[M]ay argues in the leaked internal Whitehall letter that Javid’s plans to end “not-spots”, by allowing customers to roam between rival networks, could aid criminals and terrorists. The Times reported that May’s objections centre around concerns that roaming would make it more difficult for the agencies to track suspects.

This is, of course, ridiculous. In the US, cell phone subscribers hop from tower to tower freely, and yet, law enforcement and national security agencies have plenty of options to track suspects and terrorists. It’s hard to believe the GCHQ and UK’s law enforcement agencies don’t have access to the same methods and technology.

For one, IMSI catchers (Stingray devices) are able to spoof any service provider’s tower and, if need be, force every phone in its effective range down to a 2G connection for easier surveillance. So, it ultimately doesn’t matter whether these “not spots” exist or have been papered over by legislation or cooperative agreements between service providers.

On top of that, these agencies have access to “tower dumps,” often without anything more powerful than a subpoena. This gives agencies a record of every connection made to these towers, whether it was a phone call or simply a ping for a viable signal.

Given what we’ve learned over the past year, UK’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies likely have access to plenty of this information already. Even if they don’t, they certainly have the power to compel it. In addition, the GCHQ has the invaluable assistance of the NSA — an agency that isn’t weighed down by the nominal privacy protections granted to UK citizens.

It would seem that the nation’s security — at least under the current “Five Eyes” regime — would be more threatened by dead zones in coverage than vice versa. Going off the grid would seemingly be more conducive to bad behavior than flouncing about from carrier to carrier, spilling your secrets to at least two powerful intelligence agencies.

But even worse than Theresa May’s display of ignorance and fear is her suggestion that the public’s connectivity be sacrificed on the altar of national security. David Mitchell — of That Mitchell and Webb Look — says it best:

Theresa May is the first person, as far as I know, to suggest that people’s activities should be restricted in order actually to facilitate the security services’ surveillance – to claim not only that it’s permissible for the police to snoop on everything we do and say, but also that we should be discouraged or prevented from doing things the police might have trouble keeping track of.

“Come off it!” some of you may be thinking. “She can’t be the first!” And of course you’re right – I’m exaggerating. She’s certainly not the first person ever – throughout history her point has frequently been made. In fact, the states of the former communist bloc were entirely predicated on this principle, as were most fascist regimes. It’s one of the issues over which Lenin and Tsar Nicholas II would probably find common ground if they got stuck with each other at an awkward drinks party in hell.

Mitchell’s response is exactly what May’s little written panic attack deserves. Politicians who filter everything through the terrorism lens tend to develop outsized blind spots. May would rather have UK citizens deal with lousy coverage (and being one step behind their EU counterparts) than perhaps have a terrorist jump towers and ditch pursuing GCHQ agents. Ridiculous.

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Comments on “UK's Home Secretary Says Terrorists Will Be The Real Winners If Country's Cell Coverage Dead Zones Are Fixed”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Expand the argument

The Times reported that May’s objections centre around concerns that roaming would make it more difficult for the agencies to track suspects.

Other factors that make it more difficult for agencies, police or government, to track a suspect:

-The ability to travel without being forced to send your name and location to a central database as you travel(police can track someone via their cellphone, but what if a suspect leaves it at home, intentionally or on accident?)

-The ability to pay with cash. Digital transactions can be traced, and record just who bought what and when. With cash it’s much more difficult to track this information.

-Anonymity. The ability for people to use something other than their real names, whether offline or on.

If ‘it would make it more difficult for agencies to track suspects’ is a valid excuse to intentionally leave the telecommunications system in a broken state, than that same argument could easily be applied to all three of the above.

Unfortunately, and of great concern, that very argument, ‘X makes it harder for the police/spy agencies to do their job, therefor it needs to be curtailed or limited’ has in fact been used to attack the above, or at least the anonymity entry in the list, as though anything that makes the the jobs of the police and government agencies more difficult is an obstacle by default, rather than, fairly often, a safety measure meant to protect the public from government and police overreach.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Expand the argument

Thats why all roads will eventually lead to TOTAL surveilance in EVRYTHING we do…….those who say otherwise, either havent thought things through, dont care, are lieying, and/or WANT IT

If attacks happen, eithr genuine, or false flag(look at history), what are they gonna continously call more for

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Road and mail

I don’t think anyone believes this type of argument. I just find it hard to believe anyone is stupid enough to try and make this type of argument. All sorts of ideas flood through our minds, but human beings are supposed to have a little internal voice that says “Filter this, it’s too ridiculous to say out loud, and people would laugh.”

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Road and mail

Thing is, the governments have gotten so used to people and politicians just rolling right over at the mere mention of ‘terrorists’ that it’s become their go-to phrase anytime they want to do something, and because it’s been so successful in allowing them to do insane or illegal actions, they no longer show any hesitation in using it, no matter how ridiculous the argument it(because let’s face it, once you get people to swallow the idea of ‘The best way to fight terrorists is to be afraid all the time’, pretty much anything goes at that point).

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Road and mail

… once you get people to swallow the idea of ‘The best way to fight terrorists is to be afraid all the time’, pretty much anything goes at that point).

“Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Anyone above the level of retardation should have learned from the example of Nazi Germany (at least; there’s plenty of other examples besides Nazis). Refusing to learn from history takes less intellectual friction than the alternative, so that’s where the majority goes, to our collective detriment.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Carry this to its logical conclusion

Eliminating cell phone service would be a setback to terrorists. It’s a sacrifice everyone should be proud to make.

Eliminating the government would be a setback to terrorists. They’d no longer have credulous, paranoid, easily manipulated luddites to push around interrupting the lives of perfect strangers. It’s a sacrifice they should be proud to make.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Carry this to its logical conclusion

Ah, but if we didn’t have a government, we’d invent one to maintain order. Anarchy can’t create or maintain a functioning society because we actually need some measure of centralized control and bureaucracy to make things work, keep things running, and ensure that people behave themselves.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Carry this to its logical conclusion

Anarchy can’t create or maintain a functioning society because we actually need some measure of centralized control and bureaucracy …

That’s a fine assertion with zero facts to support it. Why do you assert that centralized control is an obviously positive thing? It’s the favourite tool of oppressive dictatorships. Why is it better than distributed control?

Here’s a thought experiment for you. A lunatic stands up in a McDs, pulls a weapon and starts firing. Ten others then stand up and blow him away. Why would we prefer centralized control (it’ll take fifteen minutes for the cops to get there) over citizens with the right to concealed carry? Usually, the cops just get to clean up the mess and go after whoever got away. They can’t prevent anything.

Who’re the ones who most stridently vilify anarchy? Could that be the competitor, gov’t? I’m not convinced democracy is the least objectionable system of gov’t. In the 1850s, my ancestors were looking across the border at mobocracy in action. I’m not at all sure the overhead and fragility of democracy are worth its oft stated benefits.

Michael (profile) says:

We should implement something similar for the US highways.

Just think, if we stopped everyone at the state borders and had them present some form of identification – for simplicity sake, let’s call them “papers” – we would be able to track terrorist and criminal movements much easier. Every time someone had to present their papers, we could keep track of them in a database and could then determine based on movement who may be involved in terrorist activities.

I wonder why nobody has implemented this in the past…

Anonymous Coward says:

Computers aid terrorism

Computers aid terrorism.

If people can install encryption software on their computers without being tracked, or disconnect the cable there is no practical way to track terrorists using encryption before they strike.

May I suggest a law requiring a government root account on all general purpose computers.

And to prevent circumvention, all computers must be remotely accessible to the police without delay.

Call me Al says:

Re: tl;dr


She didn’t start badly as Home Secretary and it seemed possible she’d make some good changes and actually stand up a bit for civil liberties.

However as time as gone on it has become more and more apparent that she has various law enforcement and security agencies constantly whispering in her ear “beware the terrorists” and so she now pretty much does whatever they tell her.

Anonymous Coward says:

is there a single thing that needs to be done, that can be done to aid customers that isn’t then condemned by governments or leading government ministers using the same old ‘but terrorism’ whinge?? the way things are going, the whole planet has got to stop developing except for whatever advances can be put into place that allows governments to completely spy on all people. the terrorists, remember, are out of the equation, being far more clever, not only than of the people, but the governments as well.
this ‘but terrorist’ thing needs to stop before the whole planet is reduced to nothing other than a 24/7 monitored entity, where ordinary people have no privacy and no freedom, all because of 1 paranoid government who has threatened others if they dont help it out!!

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

I posit that having Home Secretary Theresa May in office makes terrorism worse. One need only look at the growing record of terrorist related activities that have happened under her watchful glare. It would seem that one could directly connect her policies and statements with growing terrorist activity within the nation. Perhaps the radical idea of forcing her from office is the best possible way to cut back on terrorism.

Anonymous Coward says:

Computers aid terrorism

You forgot the sarcasm tag 

Well, such a plan was actually proposed by a boneheaded Italian Euro MP so it’s not so far from what politicians want.

The only reason why it has not been seriously considered is likely that it’s not practical to provide government connectivity to all privately held devices.

But once always on connectivity is tied to a device’s core functions like ICloud or apps run from the cloud, everything is possible.
The only catch is that you can still install third party encryption software and that data encrypted locally can’t be uploaded automatically to the cloud without consuming a lot of bandwidth.

But cloud providers can’t refuse to do the government’s work, and who knows what Apple and Google can do on their devices in the background.

Only a computer with no ethernet, wifi or GSM connection is relatively secure.

But how many computers come without these functions baked in the hardware?

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Computers aid terrorism

Only a computer with no ethernet, wifi or GSM connection is relatively secure.

… If it’s powered down and locked in a vault. After all, a USB key can do wonders, and if you can pull the hard drive, …

The LEOs have access to warrants they don’t have to tell you about, and burglars don’t even need warrants. I’d also have to say that the phrase “relatively secure” is fairly slippery, as in what’s it mean? The screen door on a house will stop a not too determined paperboy. Bank vaults regularly fall to determined safe crackers.

Jyjon says:

The lady is 100% Right

Being able to roam easily will definitely help the criminals and terrorists and whatever other boogymen and boogywomen you can think of.

Just like Roads and Highways, mail, and the rest of the utility infrastructure would.

What is ridiculous is the complete lack of critical thinking that pretty much everyone has.

It’s time everyone stopped paying attention to the ramblings of the villiage idiots and get on with being adults.

michaelb958 (profile) says:

New depths of "anti-terror" right here

When I heard about the whole Snowden thing I was shocked.

When big surveillance upgrades passed without argument (I live in Australia) I was somewhat surprised.

When I read this post I was flabbergasted. I cannot even begin to explain what is wrong with this. It makes so little sense that I cannot process it at all.

(Except, why would it be a problem, with all these extensive databases to cross-reference? Surely any government idiot can make carrier-independent queries?)

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