Skip navigation

Indymedia UK is a network of individuals, independent and alternative media activists and organisations, offering grassroots, non-corporate, non-commercial coverage of important social and political issues

Home Office plans full spectrum electronic surveillance of all citizens

Anon | 30.05.2008 10:39 | Repression | Social Struggles | Technology | Birmingham

The Home Office is considering plans to develop a centralized surveillance system to track in real time every kind of electronic activity undertaken by all citizens. The project is being driven by the intelligence services and has not yet been discussed by ministers. The surveillance would include a database recording a profile of web activity, emails, and phone taps for every citizen in the UK.

The plans reveal that the intelligence services would like to build a profile of every citizen’s network of contacts and relationships. The database would also store web pages visited, subject matter, and the length of time the citizen viewed the web page. This would be made possible by installing black boxes known as “network probes” across the current communications infrastructure, which would decrypt then interrogate all data traffic before passing it on for storage against the relevant citizen’s profile. Such a technology is not yet in existence; the monetary cost to society to pay for our privacy to be infringed is expected by to be “eye-popping” as quoted by a leading industry specialist.

Currently ISPs record a limited amount of information of users internet activity. This is for a specific period of time (six years), and the data can be handed over if the ISP are served a notice under the Investigatory Powers Act. The new database would not require such a notice to be obtained, so would require destroying the already weak legislation to protect citizen’s privacy. This change of legislation is expected in the proposal of the boringly titled Communication Data Bill, expected to be hidden somewhere in the queen’s speech this November.

The Home Office has said the proposals are an “essential step in the fight against terrorism”. They fail to mention that it would also be an essential step in profiling and intimidating people fighting for social change, and a powerful tool in their ongoing project to stifle political dissent.



Ongoing repression - no surprises

02.06.2008 17:38

> The Home Office has said the proposals are an “essential step in the fight against
> terrorism”. They fail to mention that it would also be an essential step in profiling and
> intimidating people fighting for social change, and a powerful tool in their ongoing project
> to stifle political dissent.

Absolutely right - this is an important issue in our various social struggles. There are a couple of things we can do about this but it does create a bit of a distraction from our core activism.

Firstly Dan is right that this might not be as new as some think. For example, I am of the view that the mandatory "black box" installed with individual ISPs is something of a red herring (in the UK) as most domestic internet traffic goes through BT Wholesale lines anyway and is almost certainly analysed at that point. In the rare occasions oversight is sought from the press, or branches of govt, the usual reasons are given - terrorism and illegal pornography - but the scope for widespread traffic analysis is immense and the process is secretive.

The US can indeed spy on any UK national, and does, which is why CAAB (Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases) and similar campaigns are so important. Sadly these causes haven't attracted much attention, I think mainly because the concept of surveillance as an instrument of social repression within a "democracy" is considered in mainstream media and pundit circles as a conspiracy theory rather than a reality than activists have to deal with. In fact I recall there was a British legal case in which the judge castigated British Telecom for revealing that they provide a very high bandwidth surveillance pipe to American bases in the UK - with "national security" being the reason it should never have been mentioned. (Sorry, I don't have a reference, though some persistent googling would turn something up).

The second thing I'd offer is that this can be seen as a continuation of the "infowars", in which activists and the state are pitted against each other in a technological arms race. The Internet provided govt with an enormous amount of operational resilience during the Cold War (government winning) but has handed activists an enormous prize in terms of mobilisation (activists winning). The state can afford the very best surveillance equipment (government winning) but encryption is cheap and getting easier to use (activists winning again). Laws against encryption and independent media (think back to the seizure of the British Indymedia server) may provide a new win for the state but new activist tools will surface, and some may help swing the balance back to the agitator.

On this note, P2P technology I think will start to surface as a new way of distributing activist information, making targetted repression harder to carry out (imagine if the seized Indymedia server had been replicated onto ten thousand activists' ADSL home servers - not hard technologically and easily achievable with a software installation on a desktop machine). Could the state *really* mount that many dawn raids? Definitely not - difficult logistically and the press - as crap as it is - would cry foul.

Lastly I'd just try to end on a positive note. I met a guy once at an anti-war talk, and asked for his email address so I could add him to the mailing list of the local group. He started to write down an address, but then couldn't remember it, and then wanted to set up a new throw-away address first. After gentle enquiries to him, it turned out that he was so fearful of surveillance that he had set up countless email addresses and - I suspect - was becoming paranoid and less effective as an activist. And yet he had done nothing wrong!

However he was very rare, and an overwhelming number of activists I know are unmoved by surveillance as a form of state repression. Funnily enough, I saw a police spotter at a march call someone I knew out by name, and this has resulted in their getting more involved in anti-war activism. In effect, an act that was meant to be intimidating (whether or not the individual officer knew it) ended up having the opposite effect. I'd therefore urge activists to be aware of surveillance, and to use anti-surveillance tools if it is convenient to do so, but don't let it substantially alter your behaviour. We can by all means campaign against it - think FITwatch and NO2ID here etc. - but we can (and do) press on regardless.

Remember: the broad base of people supporting rights for people over the rights of corporations will win, simply because their is more ordinary people who want the former than elites who want the latter. For me that provides substantial positivity - and I can leave the agents of the state to cower in their dark corners, if that is how they choose to pay their bills :o)

Ho hum


Display the following 4 comments

  1. Policeware aware - NarusInsight — Dan
  2. Addition: source article — Anon
  3. Re: Policeware — Anon
  4. as if by magic — Dan