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Update: (10th August 2009)

The Interception of Communications Commissioner’s annual report has sparked fresh calls to control the amount of surveillance currently carried out on UK citizens. Read more in this ISPreview article

The question has been asked many times before, but just how did George Orwell foresee the future? Ok, so his timescales were a little off, but are we moving even closer towards a big brother culture? The government’s latest proposals suggest we are!

Neil Watson, Technical Support Manager

Neil Watson, Technical Support Manager

The proposal

Sir David Pepper, Director of the British intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has announced plans to centrally store records of all electronic communications throughout the UK. The Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) will be the largest surveillance system ever created in the UK and calls for a ‘live tap’ to be placed on every electronic communication in Britain including telephone calls, emails and visited websites.

The GCHQ and its supporters argue this is a necessary step in the fight against terrorism and that the centrally stored data will enable the police and government organisations to collect vital evidence of what it calls ‘terrorist friendship trees’ to identify potential plots and collaborations.

So how far are they willing to go? “quite a long way” according to Geoff Hoon, Transport Secretary, who recently defended the plans on the BBC’s Question Time. He went so far as to suggest “If they are going to use the Internet to communicate with each other and we don’t have the power to deal with that, then you are giving a licence to terrorists to kill people.”


Unsurprisingly this project is facing huge amounts of criticism. The Liberal Democrats and many civil liberties groups have described the scheme as “something they would expect to read about in George Orwell’s 1984” and such an intrusion into the average person’s daily life is of course of enormous concern. But it’s not just the ethical implications of this proposal that are an issue. The IMP is expected to be the most expensive IT project in British history with an estimated cost of £12 billion, a cost that is reportedly already raising concerns within the Treasury especially in the current economic climate.

And of course there is the ongoing concern over our levels of trust where the government and our data are concerned. The past year has seen numerous cases of losses of private and confidential data. By storing the UK’s communications in a central location, how secure will our information be and just who will be able to access it and how? How will the government ensure this system is not abused? Will they still need a court order to obtain such information or will anti terrorist departments be alerted to ‘suspicious’ activities?

These are just a few of the questions that CP’s such as Entanet and the general public want answers to and they all come down to the same overriding question – ignoring the immense ethical and cost implications for a minute, just how is this proposal workable?

In Entanet’s view it isn’t workable. We question whether the government has properly considered the impact it will have on CP’s. We’re concerned that the country will see a repeat performance of NPfIT, a project that’s over budget, overdue and highly criticised? NPfIT was originally expected to cost just £6.2 billion to fully implement, However more recent estimates show a cost of over £12billion and a delay of 4 years. Is The IMP the new NPfIT but on an even larger scale?

We hope that the answers to these questions and a more thoroughly considered proposal will result from the recently announced consultation which is due to be held in the New Year.

Will it even work?

Despite the GCHQ and the Home Secretary’s insistence that the IMP is an essential step in the fight against terrorism an influential US report by the National Academies, Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists, suggests that this type of intelligence mining will be of no help and in essence will simply generate huge amounts of false leads. The report states “Modern data collection and analysis techniques have had remarkable success in solving information-related problems in the commercial sector; for example, they have been successfully applied to detect consumer fraud. But such highly automated tools and techniques cannot be easily applied to the much more difficult problem of detecting and pre-empting a terrorist attack, and success in doing so may not be possible at all.”

Let’s hope I have not been flagged on any government warning systems for researching and writing this article. Remember big brother might start watching!

Have your say!

What do you think of the new proposals? Is it a step too far for civil liberties or a justifiable plan in the fight against terrorism? Let us know by adding a comment to this article.

Update (5th January 2009)

The government has now announced that management of the giant database will be tendered out to a private company. This raises obvious concerns over the security and confidentiality of this information. Read more in this ISPreview article:

The Interception of Communications Commissioner’s annual report has sparked fresh calls to control the amount of surveillance currently carried out on UK citizens. Read more in this ISPreview article:
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5 Responses to “Are we living in “1984”?”

  1. Once again government forgets it serves the people, NOT the other way around. Is it me or are the new younger politicians more arrogant in their abuse of power over our lives?This is another bad idea featuring another database for this surveillance obsessed government  -  I think its more about control of the populace than terrorism.

  2. There is a need for all ISPs and everyone within the internet and computer community to highlight this debate. Jacqui Smith, probably quite stupidly, has said she wants there to be an open public discussion and as the real implications of this legislation are revealed, it will do ISPs no good to hide behind the government’s propaganda machine.
    All that will happen is for customers to abandon them as state collaborators.
    The eyes of the world are watching and it is important to stand up and show which side you are on: the freedoms of the people or the oppressions of the state.
    This is something on which pretending to be neutral is not credible.
    Yes, we are sleepwalking into a database state, not just in New Britain, but across Europe (this is a European directive) as a result of the American Patriot Acts, which have hyped up and overblown the terrorist threat in order to strangle freedoms and cripple civil liberties.Once the Communications Data Bill has been inflicted upon Britain and Europe, the rest of the world will copy it, make it worse, find new ways to make it more oppressive and pool their resources to ensure that people across the world are too scared to even think that they were once free.You will soon have the jackals, jackasses, jackbooters and jobsworths of the state poring and drooling over every email you send, every text you write, every phone call you make and every website you visit.Keep screaming from the crowd how wonderful our governments are at protecting us from the perpetual, but forever unseen 1984 wars and keep cheerleading for the two minutes’ hate and maybe you will be safe.Just make sure you are never the first one to stop applauding.Alternatively, stand up and be counted and keep rubbing the faces of politicians in this abomination and keep people informed about what they are trying to do to you.Kill it with a thousand acts of daily sabotage by doing the one thing which governments fear most: talking to and associating with other people.http://communicationsdatabill.info/blogs/

  3. Knowing that this is going to happen serious terrorists will not use traceable communications.12 billion is an awful lot to spend on a database that can be rendered virtual useless by using high level encryption and un registered remote devices.My feeling is that this is not about terrorism at all and it will be abused in the same way as all the other powers given to government agencies over the past few years….do people actually believe that they will not read the e mails ???There are already systems in place to track communications covertly (echelon) so why is more needed ???.At the end of the day you have to ask yourself  just what is it that we are trying to protect ? if its our long held belief in freedom of speech, then the terrorist has already won when we embark down this path.These are policies that we have shouted down in china and russia for many decades we propose them here…our government should hang its head in shame….

  4. Smoking kills 100,000 people a year.Approximately 4000 people die in domestic accidents, and another 3500 in car crashes.800 people a year are murdered.Terrorists kill around 5 people a year, though none since 2005 when 56 were killed.  Meanwhile Harold Shipman killed 200.I know where I’d spend billions.

  5. It’s all about ultimate control over what you see and do. Look up the ‘new world order’. Enough said.

    Oh, and just to note, there are still a few ways of protecting your privacy on the internet such as SSH tunneling and VPNs.

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