British government will reportedly record email traffic and web access in black boxes
Further details have emerged regarding the UK Government's plans to monitor all internet traffic. Government circles are considering the use of a black box technology to monitor email messages and web access on a grand scale. The Independent has reported that every email and every web visit in the UK will be recorded in black boxes, and the information will then be transferred into a giant "big brother" database for storage.
The newspaper's information is based on discussions held between Home Office representatives and leading figures in the IT and telecommunications industries. The new Communications Data Bill to regulate the monitoring and storage of data streams as part of the fight against crime is to be opened up for consultation in the new year, and setting up the large database is part of it. The technical fundamentals for the new law are being prepared in the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP).
Quoting ministers, the newspaper says in face of a sceptical public, discussions are unavoidable. As has now become known, government representatives gave a PowerPoint presentation of the issues and the technology surrounding the new law to representatives of internet providers such as BT, AOL Europe, O2 and BSkyB on Monday. Home Office officials involved with the IMP are also reported to have presented the black box technology. According to them, the black boxes will be secure and won't require any direct input from ISPs. Many smaller ISPs, it is said, would be unaffected by the black boxes, because these would be installed upstream on the network. All costs are to be met by the government.
"A source close to the meeting" is quoted as telling the newspaper that "It was clear the black box is the technology the Government will use to hold all the data. But what isn't clear is what the Home Secretary, GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) and the security services intend to do with all this information in the future ... They said they only wanted to return to a position they were in before the emergence of internet communication, when they were able to monitor all correspondence with a police suspect. The difference here is they will be in a much better position to spy on many more people on the basis of their internet behaviour. Also there's a grey area between what is content and what is traffic. Is what is said in a chat room content or just traffic?" As heise online UK have previously reported, in the past, government departments had to apply to the courts for permission to spy on communications. With the new bill and the proposed database in place, this will no longer be the case.
The government's plans to extend surveillance are meeting with great scepticism and protests from the public. Richard Thomas, the United Kingdom's Information Commissioner, has described the plan as going "a step too far".