UK telcos will soon find themselves under renewed pressure to comply with government interception of communications data, following the release of an independent report into surveillance.
David Anderson, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation for the UK government, released a review of the bulk powers contained within the Investigatory Powers Bill’s legislature, which was passed through the House of Commons earlier this year. The bulk powers review investigated the extent to which UK intelligence agencies are able to gather, review and retain data from communications networks in the UK.
The report unequivocally lends its support to bulk interception, stating access to comms data is of “vital utility to the security and intelligence agencies and that alternative methods fall short of providing the same results.”
The report goes on to say that “build acquisition of communications data is crucial in a variety of fields, including counter-terrorism, counter-espionage and counter-proliferation, and its use cannot be matched by data acquired through targeted means.
Powers proposed in the Bill include the ability to intercept communications, the ability to access and retain communications data, and the ability to access internet history. It is important to note that, to a certain extent, the government is already able to gain access to a significant amount of communications data it needs for national security investigations. However, when it comes to gaining access to internet usage and history, a new Bill would need to be passed through.
The purpose of the Investigatory Powers Bill, according to the report, is not solely for transparency of government observation activity, but to prove that civilian surveillance can be done responsibly, safely and with significant protective measures in place. This will include approval through the courts for necessary warrants to investigate specific individuals; the creation of a new, powerful regulatory body (yay) intended to supervise investigatory activity; and additional protection for sensitive professions, including lawyers, journalists and MPs.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said the findings of the report compound the importance of intelligence agencies using communications data as a tool to combat
Similar discussions over communications observation are taking place between France and Germany’s interior ministers to minimise the use of encrypted communications across the EU. Jacob Ginsberg, Senior Director and encryption specialise Echoworx, says a cautious approach needs to be taken to make sure civil liberties aren’t infringed.
“No-one can argue with the fact that if intelligence agencies and the police were able to access and look inside all houses, they would catch more criminals,” he said. “But is this going too far? We also have to consider how this may be putting the majority of law abiding citizens at risk. They should not be allowed to circumvent existing laws based on type of media being surveilled. These laws were put in place to protect the average person from this kind of intrusion.
“The same rules should apply regardless of whether its phone conversations or web and social media use being tapped. There is a balance that needs to be struck but it is absolutely vital that there is appropriate judicial oversight digtating the use of these powers.”
While telecoms service providers will, presumably, have to fall in line if and when the Bill is made law; the age old question of security vs freedom will continue to arise. The report insists the requirement for surveillance balances evenly against civil liberties, and while it looks as though the public is beginning to accept that allowing intelligence agencies access to personal digital activity will, in theory, keep everyone safe; there will always be hesitation that the State will take it too far.