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A new law setting out what powers the UK state will have to monitor communications between citizens is set to be unveiled. How will it work? The Draft Investigatory Powers Bill is far more important and interesting than its technical name suggests. It has one simple aim: to completely rethink and overhaul the laws governing how the state, police and spies can gather private communications or other forms of data. Both security chiefs and privacy campaigners agree that the current rules are completely out of date because they were written before our lives moved online. What can the agencies do at the moment? Existing laws and guidance govern how MI5, GCHQ and the police can dig into what people are doing to uncover and stop crimes or threats to national security. The agencies and police can investigate you and use technical powers to intercept your communications if they can show they have a justifiable case for doing so. So that means they can listen to phone calls, intercept emails and even hack devices in the pursuit of criminals. But the law is also so complicated that very few people outside of the intelligence agencies properly understand it - and it is full of legally grey areas because it was written before the explosion of our modern digital lives.Such as what?If you were a terrorism suspect sending a letter in the post, MI5 would need a warrant signed off from the Home Secretary to intercept it and steam it open. The same applies if they want to virtually 'steam open' your email. If the police are trying to trace someone's movements and contacts, they can access their phone records - the basic "communications data" showing who is in contact with whom. But they cannot do the same for online traffic - they can't see what online services someone is using despite internet-based communications now being at the heart of so much crime. When the original laws governing powers to intercept communications were drafted 15 years ago, no-one envisaged services such as Skype, let alone video games that allowed players to talk to each other over the net. Earlier this year, a massive review of interception powers by an independent watchdog called for a complete rethink, saying the law needed to be "comprehensive" but also "comprehensible" to the public.What new powers are being proposed? The draft bill will detail how the state will require internet or communications companies to hold data for a year about where people go online - the basic information of what services they connect to, when, how and, potentially, where. If agencies want to look at what you are specifically doing, they will need a warrant signed by the Home Secretary. The bill will also cover when and how the state can mount its own hacking operations - and also how GCHQ, the secret communications agency, can launch operations to collect vast quantities of internet data as it flows through the UK.So what kind of records will the state be able to see? They would be allowed to see if someone used Snapchat at 07:30 GMT on their smartphone at home and then two hours later looked at the BBC's website via their laptop at work, but neither the text typed into the app, nor the specific pages looked at on the news site.Is there independent oversight? At present, oversight is a patchwork of commissioners and routes of official complaint. The government is under pressure to come up with a clearer system so that the public have a much better understanding of how powers are being used - and how to get redress if they think they have been wronged. Two expected measures are a criminal offence of unlawfully accessing internet data and a statutory ban on councils seeing it. Campaigners want judges to sign off warrants, rather than the Home Secretary. Supporters of the current system say ministerial sign-off ensures accountability to the electorate. Can the state access encrypted communications? The bill is expected to say companies must take "reasonable" steps to provide data when a warrant is issued - including information that is encrypted. This power already exists - and the new legislation does not explicitly outlaw "end-to-end encryption" - a security technique that means only the sender and recipient know what's in a message - and used by both Whatsapp and Apple's iMessage. It's hard to see how a company based overseas could be made to comply - which is why the government is lobbying companies to voluntarily help while also trying to force new international legal agreements. (/quote]In the original article (at the URL at the top) there's a full description of the jargon used by the various services, but I thought this item was already long enough. Go to the site if you wish to see the full article.
MI5 has secretly been collecting vast amounts of data about UK phone calls to search for terrorist connections, the BBC has learned.The programme has been running for 10 years under a law described as "vague" by the government's terror watchdog.
Consumers’ broadband bills will have to go up if the investigatory powers bill is passed due to the “massive cost” of implementation, MPs have been warned. Internet service providers (ISP) told a Commons select committee that the legislation, commonly known as the snooper’s charter, does not properly acknowledge the “sheer quantity” of data generated by a typical internet user, nor the basic difficulty of distinguishing between content and metadata. As a result, the cost of implementing plans to make ISPs store communications data for up to 12 months are likely to be far in excess of the £175m the government has budgeted for the task, said Matthew Hare, the chief executive of ISP Gigaclear.Hare and James Blessing, the chair of the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA), also warned the science and technology committee on Tuesday of the technical challenges the government would face in implementing the bill.Hare said: “On a typical 1 gigabit connection we see over 15TB of data per year passing over that connection … If you say that a proportion of that is going to be the communications data, it’s going to be the most massive amount of data that you’d be expected to keep in the future.“The indiscriminate collection of mass data is going to have a massive cost,” he added.