more UK snoopery

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Wed Mar 25 07:08:13 PDT 2009

(in other news, my own dear government just today ordered Internet censorship
for all major ISPs (Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone/Arcor, Hansenet/Alice, O2 and
Kabel Deutschland caved in "voluntarily", the rest will be forced by
unconstitutional laws)) 

Home Office defends plan to monitor social network conversations

b" Facebook and MySpace could be required to hold data about every person
users chat with for up to year

b" Privacy campaigners condemn 'centralised snooping'

* Matthew Weaver

*, Wednesday 25 March 2009 06.39 GMT

Privacy campaigners expressed alarm today over government plans to monitor
all conversations on social networking sites in an attempt to crackdown on

A Home Office spokesman said that the internet eavesdropping plan, which
would be set out in the next few weeks, would cover any social network that
allows people to chat to one another, including Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and
Twitter as well as internet calls on Skype.

He said the proposal would update existing plans to store information about
every telephone call, email, and internet visit made by anyone in the UK on a
central database.

"We have no way of knowing whether Osama bin Laden is chatting to Abu Hamza
on Facebook. Or terrorists could be having a four-way chat on Skype," he

He said the government was not interested in the contents of the
communication: "What we want to monitor is that so-and-so is logged on to
that site and spoke to so-and-so. It's the who, when and where, not the

But he conceded that in "high-profile cases" the police would want to examine
the contents of social network chatter. "The security service would want the
ability to capture information that could lead to conviction," he said.

Under the new proposals, the sites that host social networks could be
required to hold data about who users correspond with for up to a year.

Privacy campaigners criticised the plan, saying it would be another unwieldy,
costly and unnecessary failure.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, said: "The
widescale use of social networking websites highlights the enormity of
government ambitions for a centralised communications database for the
surveillance of the entire population b& Technological development is used as
an excuse for centralised snooping of a kind that ought never to be
acceptable in the oldest unbroken democracy on earth."

Michael Parker, spokesman for campaign group NO2ID, said the government was
enforcing data sharing and the pillaging of private information. "Their plans
for the intercept modernisation programme were completely unworkable to begin
with and are becoming more so with every addition they suggest. The idea of
tracking calls, texts and emails made by people in the country is unspeakably

The plans were first revealed by the Home Office minister, Vernon Coaker,
last week at a Commons committee hearing on a draft EU directive that does
not cover social networking.

He said the government's intercept modernisation programme proposals may be
extended to include "the retention of data on Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and all
other similar sites".

He added: "The government are looking at what we should do about the
intercept modernisation programme because there are certain aspects of
communications which are not covered by the [EU] directive."

Coaker acknowledged that the plan would raise fresh concerns about the right
to privacy.

"I accept that this is an extremely difficult area. The interface between
retaining data, private security and all such issues of privacy is extremely
important," he said.

The Home Office spokesman said a consultation paper, to be published shortly
before or after Easter, would explore the practicality of the plan.

In a statement the Home Office added: "The government has no interest in the
content of people's social network sites and this is not going to be part of
our upcoming consultation. We have been clear the communications revolution
has been rapid in this country and the way in which we collect communications
data needs to change so that law enforcement agencies can maintain their
ability to tackle terrorism and gather evidence.

"To ensure that we keep up with technological advances we intend to consult
widely on proposals shortly. We have been very clear that there are no plans
for a database containing the content of emails, texts, conversations or
social networking sites."

On Monday the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust published a report claiming that a
quarter of all the largest public-sector database projects, including the
identity cards register, were fundamentally flawed and clearly breach
European data protection and rights laws. Claiming to be the most
comprehensive map so far of Britain's "database state", the report says that
11 of the 46 biggest schemes, including the national DNA database and the
Contactpoint index of all children in England, should be given a "red light"
and immediately scrapped or redesigned.

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