HM Government "collects more data than the Stasi"
According to Timothy Garton Ash, who writes in the Guardian.
This has got to stop. Britain's snooper state is getting completely out of hand. We are sleepwalking into a surveillance society, and we must wake up. When the Stasi started spying on me, as I moved around East Germany 30 years ago, I travelled on the assumption that I was coming from one of the freest countries in the world to one of the least free. I don't think I was wrong then, but I would certainly be wrong now. Today, the people of East Germany are much less spied upon than the people of Britain. The human rights group Privacy International rates Britain as an "endemic surveillance society", along with China and Russia, whereas Germany scores much better.
An official report by Britain's interception of communications commissioner has just revealed that nearly 800 public bodies are between them making an average of nearly 1,000 requests a day for "communications data", including actual phone taps, mobile phone records, email or web search histories, not to mention old-fashioned snail mail. The Home Office website notes that all communication service providers "may be served with a notice by the secretary of state requiring them to maintain a permanent intercept capability. In practice, agreement is always reached by consultation and negotiation." How reassuring.
The cell phone networks have been configured for legal wiretapping for a long time now. For example a recent case in Greece, parties unknown simply called the utilities in Ericsson's AXE system to perform an unlawful intercept.
In modern mobile telecommunication networks, legal wiretaps, known as lawful interceptions, are preformed at the switch. Ericsson AXE telephone exchanges support lawful intercepts via the remote-control equipment subsystem (RES), which carries out the tap, and the interception management system (IMS), software used to initiate the tap which adds the tap to the RES database. In a fully operating lawful interception system the RES and IMS both create logs of all numbers being taped so that system administrators can preform audits to find unauthorized taps.
The wiretapping infrastructure is there. And it's going to be used. The attack and defense of the information infrastructure inadvertently creates a technological arms race in which both sides get more sophisticated. The defense of any network -- and the Internet is no exception -- relies to a large extent on having a profile of its "normal" activities. Statistics based on huge samples and datasets are used to create a picture of what should be. Just as when a person knows something has been disturbed on a tabletop with which he is intimately familiar, so must network defenders have a way of spotting "anomalies". But this in turn creates threats to those who, often for legitimate reasons, want to do new things. For example. The RIAA wants to monitor peer-to-peer traffic on the Internet, but advocates of privacy want to prevent them from doing so. In order to frustrate the Internet monitors the privacy advocates use all kinds of ways to obfuscate or encrypt their information. This in turn leads to even greater investments in monitoring and cryptanlysis.
Sometimes public policy goes off in two different directions at once. Privacy laws mandate that data should be protected, while anti-terrorism laws provide that in certain respects they should be monitored. Recently a group of law professors denounced "online mobs" operating under cover of anonymity. But the same law professors might object to requiring everyone who went online to swipe an identity card into a reader before accessing the Internet. Somehow the balance must be struck, but not before there's collateral damage to the little guy. Perhaps the saddest story of the last week concerned a "59-year-old PG&E worker and his wife, who were mistakenly flagged as pro-Scientology hackers" and had his home address, phone number, cell numbers, Social Security number dragged through the Internet through no fault of his own by a shadowy group called Anonymous. The big bad boys on the network can more than take care of themselves in this "arms race" but the ordinary man must trust to luck.