UK 'Snooper's Charter' Seeks To Eliminate Pesky Private Communications

from the eat-your-heart-out,-china dept

As expected, the UK government has published its Draft Communications Bill (pdf) -- better known as the "snooper's charter," since it requires ISPs to record key information about every email sent and Web site visited by UK citizens, and mobile phone companies to log all their calls (landline information is already recorded).

Since this was only released a few hours ago, people are still trawling through it to find out what delights it holds, but an eagle-eyed David Meyer has already spotted something rather extraordinary: the UK government seems to be proposing to log not just every IP packet, but every physical packet -- and letter, and postcard -- too.

That's thanks to Section 25 of the Draft, which states:

Part 1 [the main requirements to log communications data] applies to public postal operators and public postal services as it applies to telecommunications operators and telecommunications services.
And if you were wondering what "communications data" means when applied to letters and postcards, it includes:
postal data comprised in or attached to a communication (whether by the sender or otherwise) for the purposes of a postal service by means of which it is being or may be transmitted
Letters, telephone calls, email and the Web -- this is a level of total surveillance that countries like China, North Korea or Iran can only dream of. What remains unclear is how the UK government will try to gather this incredible flood of information, and whether it can access it in real time. Here's what the site Privacy International thinks will happen:
The government today published a draft version of a bill that, if signed into law in its current form, would force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and mobile phone network providers in Britain to install 'black boxes' in order to collect and store information on everyone's internet and phone activity, and give the police the ability to self-authorise access to this information.
That article points out that two important questions on the Internet side of things remain unanswered:
However, the Home Office failed to explain whether or not companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter will be brought under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), and how they intend to deal with HTTPS encryption.
When an official was pressed on that last point, he gave a rather disturbing reply:
At this morning's Home Office briefing, Director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism Charles Farr was asked about how the black box technology would handle HTTPS encryption. His only response was: "It will."
This is going to get very interesting.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jun 2012 @ 11:50pm

    Re: Things That Make You Go Hmm

    Actually, unlawful surveillance happens all the time here. The difference is that most forms of government surveillance can't happen lawfully without a warrant. The unlawful kind happens all the time, but the people they use it against tend to be spy and terrorist types who aren't exactly going to file a lawsuit over it, especially when the alphabet agencies are likely to just kill their targets outright. Besides, every one of those agencies has official written rules that say "Don't do anything unlawful. The rule of law trumps national security." so they have plausible deniability if anyone gets caught.

    The reason this is enforced against the government on most levels is that unlike other countries, Americans have guns, guns, guns, guns and guns. Lots of them. No matter how powerful your arguments or friends, if you get shot you usually die. Guns are great equalizers of power, because they basically tell our government "If you get too out of hand, we'll fucking KILL you!" on a constant basis.

    You could have a Fourth Amendment too if you convinced enough people it was a good idea. It was the English government we started shooting for being oppressive, though, so I wish you good luck.

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