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PRIVACY TACTIC – Draft emails – one email account – sidesteps surveillance

09/09/2012

This spying bill is against privacy and democracy. And it won’t work

Should the Communications Data Bill become law, it will be an intervention too far from the surveillance state

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/09/henry-porter-too-much-government-snooping?newsfeed=true

An interesting tactic, revealed by the Guardian:

Mass surveillance of everyone, using special filters installed at more than 200 internet service providers, is bound to miss the bad guys. Professor Peter Sommer, an academic and expert witness on digital issues, suggested to the committee that surveillance could easily be avoided by buying a data SIM card, using an internet cafe or by means of draft emails on a web-based email service, where all the members of a conspiracy share one identity and so can access the same email account. Because the emails are saved as drafts only, they escape surveillance and so the email account acts as a discreet communications channel. The bill would obviously stimulate more and more ingenuity among those who want to break the law.

What are we buying for £1.8bn over 10 years, if not 100% security? The answer includes mass surveillance of innocent people, a worrying change in the relationship between state and highly monitored public, and a chill in web innovation and business activity. There is evidence that companies would not choose to operate under a regime of such scrutiny and an enhanced risk to our personal information. The case of Apple users and the FBI couldn’t be more eloquent of that. But you have only to think of the recent instances of police selling information to newspapers, of journalists hacking email accounts and the abuse of the police database to realise the risks of vast databases with so many weak points.

Glyn Wintle, who is paid to break into systems to test their security, told the committee that he once kept a log of data losses reported in the British media. It worked out a loss every two days of up to 200 million personal records, which underscores Anderson’s rule that no large database can be secure and functional at the same time. That will apply to this Home Office system, however much money is spent.

Most expect the costs to rise above £1.8bn, as the Home Office chases the impossible goal of total surveillance. But the real wickedness is not the expense in straitened times but the pretence that there is little value in a person’s communications data, whom they are communicating with and when, compared to the content of the communications. Malcolm Hutty from Linx told the committee that the data alone could tell authorities about associations between people, their characteristics and, in the age of smart phones, their position from minute to minute. Search engines would begin to trawl the data for patterns of behaviour to discover who was in a particular location at certain time, for example.

Glyn Wintle, who is paid to break into systems to test their security, told the committee that he once kept a log of data losses reported in the British media. It worked out a loss every two days of up to 200 million personal records, which underscores Anderson’s rule that no large database can be secure and functional at the same time. That will apply to this Home Office system, however much money is spent.

Most expect the costs to rise above £1.8bn, as the Home Office chases the impossible goal of total surveillance. But the real wickedness is not the expense in straitened times but the pretence that there is little value in a person’s communications data, whom they are communicating with and when, compared to the content of the communications. Malcolm Hutty from Linx told the committee that the data alone could tell authorities about associations between people, their characteristics and, in the age of smart phones, their position from minute to minute. Search engines would begin to trawl the data for patterns of behaviour to discover who was in a particular location at certain time, for example.

Given this astonishing power to monitor law-abiding citizens, the draft bill is remarkably weak on safeguards, proposing that the opaque and more or less unaccountable Intelligence and Security Committee will ensure against abuse of the system. One of the most worrying aspects is that if this bill becomes law, we will never learn how this vast expansion of collection and retention of our data actually affects our lives and distorts the nature of our democratic society.

 

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