TapIntercept Modernisation Programme

Information is slowly leaking out about what this government initiative will actually mean. The EU Data Retention Directive provides for member states to require Communication Service Providers to collect and retain data for a period of between 6 months and 2 years. There are hints that the Home Office are going to not only specify the maximum period but also to set up a system to record it all centrally.

Some sources suggest that the recording of phone call information (that is source and destination numbers and timestamp, not content) is already being done (but probably not Skype calls).

Extending this to email could be problematic. The source address of an email is known to be highly unreliable (look in your spam box to see examples) and, anyway, if the ISPs are to do it then what about those people who use international web mail services like Hotmail and Google plus there are those (ahem!) who use an off-shore host. But then, other sources suggest that, to make things easier for the smaller ISP, the intercept will be done further upstream on the trunks. To do this they would have to filter on the port numbers (POP, SMTP & IMAP). Even then it wouldn’t catch the web mail services.

Extending it further to monitor other internet traffic such as web sites generates a huge quantity of data. Just viewing one page can easily generate dozens of requests and downloads, a busy portal can require hundreds, so some serious data reduction techniques would have to be used. But as a side effect, the data is unreliable in intent even if comprehensive in actuality. The user is not in control of side content on the web pages they view and not even the main content when the referrer information is vague or misleading.

We already know that the return on investment for video surveillance is very poor to the extent that some authorities are leaving them unmanned. Sifting through the archives looking for incidents retrospectively is enormously time consuming and frequently a waste of police time. I don’t suppose this new idea will be any better.

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