February 7, 2013
The U.K.’s intelligence agencies are planning to install ‘black box’-style surveillance devices in the country’s telecommunications infrastructure to monitor the U.K.’s online activity.
According to lawmakers in the country’s capital [PDF], these devices will rely on deep packet inspection—a technique that has been criticized repeatedly by online activists and citizens alike—as part of the government’s efforts to increasingly monitor British Web.
After a critical U.K. parliamentary committee report into the U.K.’s draft Communications Data Bill, which would see Web, email and call data collected for law enforcement purposes, the U.K. government will now substantially amend the bill.
Such techniques will allow U.K. law enforcement agencies to log the details of almost everything that citizens’ visit and access online, including Web site domain names and even details of Skype calls.
Jonathan Evans, the head of Britain’s domestic intelligence service MI5, said in the U.K. parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee’s report [PDF] that, “access to communications data of one sort or another is very important indeed.”
As a result, the committee noted that existing laws “do not cover the problems of emerging technology,” and that there should be a “new approach.”
One of the more viable techniques suggested by the committee was using legislation to “include the ability to instruct [communications data providers] to capture third-party content traversing their networks using technology such as Deep Packet Inspection.”
Providers of communications data—such as Internet and broadband providers, and landline and mobile phone companies—said in the report that they “must have a legal foundation to retain data,” effectively ruling out any voluntary solutions as suggested by the report.
Communications data does not record the actual contents of the data, such as emails or the recordings of phone conversations, rather it includes all the details about everything that’s sent and received online.
For instance, while the email addresses of senders and recipients, the contents of such emails will still require a court order to access. The time and date stamps of that email will be available, but a senior police or intelligence officer will have to authorise such access.
“Whilst legislation is not a perfect solution, we believe it is the best available option,” the committee noted. And legislation it likely will be.