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The IMP (Interception Modernisation Programme) was a highly controversial plan from the then Labour government which planned to intercept and store immense amounts of communications data in a bid to fight cybercrime and terrorism. It would have been the world’s largest surveillance system and was expected to cost a whopping £2billion but, with the change of government and in the face of constant criticism, it looked like the IMP had been scrapped. In fact in the new government’s original coalition agreement they pledge “An end to storing Internet and email records without good reason”.

Neil Watson, Head of Service Operations

Neil Watson, Head of Service Operations

That was until the Home Secretary Theresa May announced its reincarnation, albeit under a new name, earlier this month. The IMP, now known as the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP), will be included in the Government’s Counter Terrorism Strategy known as CONTEST.

The CONTEST document says: “Legislation will be brought forward to put in place the necessary regulations and safeguards to ensure that the response to this technology challenge [from terrorists using the internet] is compatible with the Government’s approach to information storage and civil liberties.”

The idea of the IMP/CCDP is to collect and store all electronic communications including emails, social networking sites, website browsing histories and phone calls to help the police and, more likely, GCHQ fight cybercrime and terrorism. The problem with the IMP/CCDP is not only the huge privacy issues that it throws up but also the immense technical challenges.

In our previous articles on this subject we raised concerns over the feasibility of communications providers such as Entanet being required to collect and store this immense amount of data. We also raised concerns over the security of this data and how the government expects to protect it from potential hackers. Let’s face it, the Government doesn’t have the best track record in this area. We have had everything from lost laptops to website hacks in the past. Our views haven’t changed.

Our concerns were echoed by a number of other affected industry parties including all of the UK’s mobile operators and LINX who stated: “We view the description of the government’s proposals as ‘maintaining’ the capability as disingenuous: the volume of data the government now proposes CSPs should collect and retain will be unprecedented, as is the overall level of intrusion into the privacy of the citizenry.”

The Open Rights Organisation (ORG) unsurprisingly also have grave concerns over the IMP/CCDPs intrusion into people rights to privacy. On the website Jim Killock, ORG’s Executive Director, argues that these plans are aptly timed as the national news is filled with details of the News of the World’s phone hacking activities. He states: “While politicians are convinced that Murdoch’s press has over-stepped the mark by routine hacking of citizen’s phones, let’s remember that plans for mass, pervasive hacking of our phones and emails is still sat waiting for revival by the Home Office…

…Murdoch’s practices throw up another very serious question that politicians should ask themselves, when thinking about creating these enormous vaults of unnecessary information: you do not know who will try to access and use that information.

But you can guess that sooner or later, people’s privacy will be abused, either through intrusive commercial uses like behavioural advertising, or by simple unpleasant muck-raking.”

The government will have an interesting fight on its hands to get this legislation through though, as in 2009 the European Commission ruled such plans to collate and store this information as a matter of course to be illegal. Since 2007 the Privy Council has also been looking into the use of intercepted evidence in court. In 2009 this was also ruled not possible. The Council has been asked to look into this again by Theresa May.

So is the IMP back for good in another guise?

Well it looks like it might be. At the very least it looks like the government wants it to be. From the moment these plans were originally suggested they have been met with criticism from privacy advocates and concern from the Internet industry as to the feasibility of storing and protecting such vast amounts of data. It looks though like the Government is determined to implement these proposals and it will no doubt have the support of the police and anti-terrorism services. If they are to be implemented though it will undoubtedly have a long fight with the European Commission and Privy Council to allow the evidence in to be used in court and secure convictions. We will be watching this one closely!

Have your say!

What do you think about the resurrection of the IMP? Do you think it is a good idea and should be given our full support? Or do you think it is an intrusion of privacy? Do you have concerns over the feasibility, cost or security of the data? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.

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