Government

UK plans to monitor all online comms are "waste of money"

Why proposed laws to allow UK police and security services to monitor all online communications will likely be hugely expensive and ineffective.

UK security services and police will be able to monitor all online communication under draft laws to be detailed later this month.

The proposals - which will allow law enforcers to monitor email, social networks, instant messaging and even online games - will cost billions to implement, if estimates for similar schemes hold true.

The government said that police and security services need to be able to monitor all online communications "to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public".

Monitoring on this scale will require UK internet service providers to install systems to intercept and analyse internet traffic using deep packet inspection (DPI), according to Cambridge University security researcher Dr Richard Clayton.

DPI can be used to monitor everything a person does online, from the web pages they visit to the messages they send to their friends. However the government said it plans to implement systems that will only monitor "communications data", such as who a person talked to online and when, and not the message content.

DPI-enabled monitoring requires "substantial" ongoing investment, Clayton said, as it needs to be set up to work with each site and service online, as well as needing regular tweaks to continue monitoring them.

"It can be done, but whether this is a good way to waste the taxpayers money is another question because this equipment is extremely expensive and will require a great deal of hand holding," he said.

Bypassing such a system would also be relatively simple to the technically savvy. Anyone who encrypts their internet traffic, for instance by using an https-enabled site to communicate, would be able to hide who they are talking to. Given the ease with which such a system can be circumvented, Clayton questioned how much use it would be in meeting the government's aim of monitoring terrorist groups and serious organised criminal gangs.

"You're not picking up the hardcore people who know how to do communications security, what you're doing is random surveillance of wannabes sitting in their bedrooms," he said.

"I think this is people getting excited about technology for technology's sake, and that there are far better things to spend the money on, like hiring more policeman."

Clayton is worried by the principle of routinely monitoring people before they are suspected of wrongdoing. "Essentially it really is Big Brother, it's let's get all of this information about everyone beforehand on the off-chance that they're naughty," he said.

The governments in China and Iran reportedly use DPI systems to monitor and censor internet traffic.

The UK government said that it will "ensure that the use of communications data is compatible with the government's approach to civil liberties".

The government will publish the full details of its communication intercept plans by the end of this month, and wants legislation in place by the end of June 2015, according to Home Office documents published in January.

The previous Labour government proposed a similar system using a central database to track phone, text, email and internet use, but it was dogged by concerns over the project's technical feasibility and cost.

About

Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

6 comments
HAL 9000
HAL 9000

That really applies to the UK Government here and though the Police would want this I very much doubt that they even begin to understand what it is that they are asking for. If we go back a Long Time to the Time of Cavemen Troglodytes and Cave Women in 2001 the US Authorities had recordings of the Hijackers conversations who where responsible for hijacking the Airliners Involved on 11 September 2001. What they didn't have was the resources to actually scan these recordings so that they had any Intelligence on what was going to happen. What the UK Government at the behest of it's Police Forces is looking at here without understanding what it is that they are asking for is [b]Information Overload.[/b] The only thing to come out of actions like this will be a reduction of staff on the streets doing the job that is expected of them more staff behind the scenes flooded with Information that they can not hope to even scan within the next few years let alone actually get any Intelligence from and the Bulk Waste of Money. There are way too many Key Words that will trigger recordings and things like Boot & Nuke a common HDD Wiping Utility is just one of them that will require every reference to those 3 Words to be Manually Scanned for information to what it is referring to. While it could be a Dirty Bomb [i]again another key Word Combination[/i] it is just as likely and actually [b]Far More Likely[/b] to be an Invoice from a Computer Repair Company indicating why the bill was so much and have nothing at all to do with Terrorists Activity. The only possible place that this would conceivably prove useful is in Criminal Cases and even then to recover the Evidence will take several years and cost Millions of Pounds that could better be used elsewhere to get the same conviction for far less and far quicker. Currently the Authorities don't do Data Recovery on Wiped HDD which they are all capable of performing because of the cost, and that cost pales to insignificance when compared to what is being proposed here. As things stand today any Government can Forensically recover any Intact HDD for somewhere around the Million Pound Mark, but what is being suggested as required is several Million Pounds being expended for every Man Woman & Child per year to save this Data and then somehow being worked through which to date is still undiscussed/comprehended by some Organization which as yet doesn't exist and as yet are not funded. And that is without any Legal Argument on if this Evidence will be Accepted by the Courts or thrown out as Not Obtained in Accordance with Existing Laws. Yep makes perfect sense to me and sounds very much like Censoring the Internet, like is being proposed by the AU Government, though that while not overly piratical is infinitely cheaper than recording everything. :^0 Col

mudpuppy1
mudpuppy1

"However the government said it plans to implement systems that will only monitor ???communications data???, such as who a person talked to online and when, and not the message content." That's how it starts. They say that to mollify critics, then start reading content anyway. ???It can be done, but whether this is a good way to waste the taxpayers money is another question..." Typical of government academicians (and government people generally). As if there IS a GOOD way to waste taxpayer's money. At least he acknowledged that is is in fact, taxpayer's money. Wonder how he feels about being lumped in with Iran and China.

sissy sue
sissy sue like.author.displayName 1 Like

The internet has no borders. Governments cannot tolerate a form of communication over which they have so little control. It doesn't matter whether a government calls itself a democracy or a dictatorship; the same types of people are attracted to government because of their hunger to control other people. The free distribution of information between citizens inside and outside a country must drive these power-hungry politicians and bureaucrats crazy, which is why they attempt, and will continue to attempt, to regulate and control online activity.

Researcher75
Researcher75

Well! and it came about that Etc..... whilst not being University orientated I understand Dr Clayton completely and his concern which should be that of everyone. It is an unfortunate evolutionary state this world is in, due, one must surmise to overpopulation? How does one get over the terrorist, the hacker, the smart Alec Etc... - the answer lies within us all, but we are not able to bring ourselves to acquaint our minds with a considered cure. All too many people just live for themselves, others do not exist - thoughts are selfish - although there are a good percentage who do care - thank goodness!! Expense for this "considered" privacy invasion will one hopes, be the tool that kills it. Our educated brains MUST find a different solution or we will end up like "1984" and the rest of the sci-fi projections.

jkameleon
jkameleon like.author.displayName 1 Like

... but potential menace. After the October Revolution, the entire archives of the Tzar's secret police "Okhrana" fell into the hands of the revolutionaries intact. Utterly astounded, they realized that Okhrana knew everything about each and everyone of them. As a matter of fact, Okhrana had more accurate picture about various revolutionary organizations (membership, connections, relations, etc) than their own leaders. Yet, that hadn't helped Tzar's regime a bit, on the contrary: In the final stages of decay, out of control Okhrana spooks organized terrorist attacks, and assasinated the then Russian prime minister. Lenin viewed the state apparatus as a machine gun- inanimate mechanism without a will of its own. Machine gun is a nasty thing, but alas, it can't be uninvented or abolished. Outlawing it would be fruitless. The only thing one can do about it is to be on the right side of it. And so, the Bolsheviks incorporated Okhrana in their new system. Its cryptographic department remained entirely intact, the staff probably haven't missed a day of work because of the revolution. Most of the rest of the Joseph Fouche-like experts were spared as well. Such people are hard to come by, and even harder to get rid of. Okhrana was the foundation of the long succestion of Soviet secret services which followed- Cheka, NKVD, KGB, and whatnot. And, when the time came for the Soviet regime to go, the KGB haven't helped a bit. It hadn't dissapeared into the thin air either. It was just renamed again. And, the show goes on. There is no way Big Brother could save the regime in its death throes. It can only make things worse for everyone involved.

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas like.author.displayName 1 Like

Too much pointless information, and the desire to obtain it, both harmful. Bad habits that are hard to kick, too.

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