UK Gov plans snoop database

May 23, 2008 | 08:12

Tags: #1984 #database #echelon #encryption #home-office #nineteen-eighty-four #privacy #rip #terrorism

Companies: #government

If you worry at night about how much data Google stores about you with its famous multi-decade cookies, fret no more – because our friendly government wants to store even more.

The Home Office announced its plans this week to create a database that will store data on every mobile and landline telephone call, every e-mail, every fax, every MMS and SMS, and every web site you visit for a minimum of a year – and possibly up to five years.

The plan is built in to the Communications Data Bill, which is a draft piece of legislation that looks to improve the efficacy of – you guessed it – counter-terrorism investigations, and help make our lives safer. Gives you a warm fuzzy feeling, doesn't it?

Although government monitoring systems for civilian electronic communication systems are already in use – see ECHELON – this marks the first such invasion of privacy to be carried out completely openly by a major government.

An article in The Telegraph – how appropriate – explains the details of the project, including the fact that ISPs have already been told they will need to turn customer records over to the Home Office should the database get the go-ahead. What isn't mentioned is how difficult it will be for government officials to access the database, what kind of data security will be put in place to prevent data theft, or any rights that subjects may have to view and correct data held on them.

BetaNews estimates that there are around fifty seven billion text messages and one trillion e-mails sent annually to and from the UK, so if the government does go ahead with these plans, we're talking a server farm of pretty prodigious capacity. Perhaps they'll run it on Google Apps?

Anyone who's read George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four will be familiar with the concept of “Big Brother” - no, not the Endemol reality TV show – as an entity which sees all and controls all for the supposed 'safety' of the populace during a war against an 'evil' foe in a dystopian vision of the future of Britain. What Orwell couldn't have predicted, writing as he was in 1948, was that many of his cynical predictions would come true – massive surveillance by the government on its people via CCTV cameras, snooping on private communications, the requirement for citizens to carry mandatory ID, and even the 'management' of information regarding on-going wars – and that's just what gets reported in the mainstream media. The government is increasingly removing our right to a private life – and all in the name of 'counter-terrorism.'

There are ways around any monitoring system, of course – encryption being one of them. Freely available software such as the GNU Privacy Guard integrates with many e-mail clients and offers on-the-fly public key encryption that would take every computer in the world a dashed long time to break. Sadly, that's not as secure as it may have once seemed thanks to Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which requires you to either provide the required passwords and decryption keys to the government on request or decrypt the files for them – or face up to two years in prison and a criminal record, even if the encrypted file is nothing more than your shopping list.

Still, we can always look on the bright side: the government will probably contract the database out to EDS – in which case the system will never work anyway.

Anyone here worried about the government's increasing intrusion into our not-quite-so-private lives, or is it simply the price we pay to live in a 'safe' society? Share your thoughts on the proposed bill over in the forums.
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