Parliamentary Committee Tears UK Snooper’s Charter to Shreds

A new Parliamentary Joint Committee on the latest draft of the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill proposal – colloquially known as the Snooper’s Charter, due to its wide-ranging powers of mass surveillance – has called for “significant changes” and “important clarity” to be added to the controversial proposal.

“The Government still needs to make explicit on the face of the Bill that CSPs (communication service providers) offering end-to-end encrypted communication or other un-decryptable communication services will not be expected to provide decrypted copies of those communications if it is not practicable for them to do so,” the Joint Committee’s report reads. “We recommend that a draft Code of Practice should be published alongside the Bill for Parliament to consider.”

The report also criticises those involved in the creation of the IP Bill, a proposal driven primarily by Home Secretary Theresa May MP, and their (mis)comprehension of the internet. “We recommend that more effort should be made to reflect not only the policy aims but also the practical realities of how the internet works on a technical level,” the report says.

Nick Clegg, former Deputy Prime Minister under the previous coalition government, and former leader of the Liberal Democrat party, branded the bill draconian, saying on BBC Radio 4 (via The Guardian), “Very few other countries other than Russia take this dragnet approach.”

Clegg was instrumental in the abandonment of the previous iteration of the Investigatory Powers Bill in 2012 and, despite being out of office now, his position on the proposals have not wavered. “Why there is this great congregation of concern from all wings of political opinion is because what the home office is in essence proposing is that in order to be able to surveil and analyse something they are saying they want to collect everything on everyone,” he added.

“This report shows just how much homework the Government has to do on this landmark legislation. Despite reams of evidence from the Home Office, the Committee finds the case for unprecedented powers to bulk hack, intercept and collect our private data has not been made,” Shami Chakrabarti, Director of human rights group Liberty, said. “The Government needs to pause, take stock and redraft – to do anything else would show astonishing contempt for parliamentarians’ concerns and our national security.”

Image courtesy of Londontopia.

Scottish MP Give Vulcan Salute in Support of Europe’s First Spaceport

Scottish National Party Member of Parliament gave a Vulcan salute to support the building of Europe’s first spaceport in Scotland, an idea which has gained the endorsement of Star Trek’s Kirk and Sulu, The Guardian reports. The SNP’s Phillippa Whitford made the hand signal during a debate in the House of Commons, before which she made the case for establishing the spaceport in her constituency of Central Ayrshire. A statement from Star Trek veteran William Shatner, supporting the initiative, was read out in Parliament by Whitford. A tweet from George Takei also lent support to the endeavour, prior to the debate.

“During the election, whenever I talked to anyone about this they would always just laugh because to us in this country we think space is for other people, it’s for the big boys: north America, Russia, maybe even China – but not us,” Whitford said. “That is something we have to change. We need to believe what we can do. I think Major Tim Peake’s mission will achieve that. This is a real industry, not the ‘beam me up Scotty’ or fretting about the dilithium crystals that we see on the telly, but a multibillion-pound industry.”

“So I’d call on the minister to be imaginative and to be brave and to be boldly going where no minister has gone before. I call on the minister to please be imaginative, enable this industry across the entire UK so it can live long and prosper,” she added.

Whitford then read out the statement from Shatner:

“Space is one of the last known frontiers mostly untouched by mankind and his politics. In opening a debate on this subject, my hope is you take the tenets of Star Trek’s prime directive to universally and peacefully share in the exploration of it. I wish you all a wonderful debate. My best, Bill.”

Before the debate, Takei made his approval of the idea known on Twitter:

The Department of Transport will be tendering bids for the spaceport following its appraisal of the technical specifications required to support any potential spaceport.

ISPs Claim UK Snooper’s Charter Could Push Up Broadband Prices

Internet Service Providers in the UK have warned that they will need to put up their broadband charges should Home Secretary Theresa May (pictured) MP’s Investigatory Powers Bill, nicknamed the Snooper’s Charter, pass into law. Representatives of ISPs told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee that money allotted by the government, £175 million, to support the storage of every customer’s data for 12 months, and the requisite security required to protect that data, is nowhere near enough.

“A typical 1 gigabit connection to someone’s home, over 50 terabytes of data per year [are] passing over it,“ Matthew Hare, the chief executive of ISP Gigaclear, told MPs. “If you say that a proportion of that is going to be the communications data—the record of who you communicate with, when you communicate or what you communicate—there would be the most massive and enormous amount of data that in future an access provider would be expected to keep. The indiscriminate collection of mass data across effectively every user of the Internet in this country is going to have a massive cost.”

Hare also dismissed the notion that tracking metadata is a simple task, since multiple internet services – internet browser, Steam, Skype, and even anti-virus software or operating system updates – often operate simultaneously, which results in data packets becoming mixed.

“All those applications are running simultaneously,” Hare said. “They are different applications using different servers with different services and different protocols. They are all running concurrently on that one machine.”

“There would be a huge amount of very sensitive personal data that could be used by bad guys,” John Shaw, Vice President of Product Management for Sophos, added. “The TalkTalk example is an unfortunate recent one that demonstrates that it is very hard for companies to protect everywhere the kind of data they keep about people, and this would be a requirement to keep a huge amount of further data.”

Shaw also feared that sales in software would decline should it become public knowledge that it contained government-mandated backdoors, telling the committee, “If I was a software business […] I would be very worried that my customers would not buy my software any more if it had anything to do with security at all. I would be worried that a backdoor was built into the software by the [Investigatory Powers] Bill that would allow the UK government to find out what information was on that system at any point they wanted in the future.”

Would you be happy paying more for your internet connection so that you could be spied on?

Image courtesy of The Guardian.

UN Privacy Chief Brands UK Surveillance Bill “Worse Than Scary”

Joseph Cannataci, the Special Rapporteur on Privacy for the United Nations, has attacked the UK Government’s Investigatory Powers Bill, branding the so-called “Snooper’s Charter” as being “worse than scary,” adding that he has seen no evidence that mass surveillance is successful for fighting crime. Cannataci, during his keynote speech at the Internet Government Forum in Brazil, also accused Member of Parliament of orchestrating an “absolute offensive” media campaign to mislead the public and shut down debate of the bill.

“What we’re talking about here is the context, and the context is completely different. When those laws were put into place there was no internet or the internet was not used in the way it is today,” Cannataci said. “It is the golden age of surveillance, they’ve never had so much data. I am just talking about metadata, I haven’t got down to content.”

“Mass surveillance is alive and well but governments are finding ways of making that the law of the land,” he added. “It can be necessary and proportionate to have targeted surveillance and what I am saying is that there’s not yet any evidence which convinces me that it is necessary and proportionate to have mass surveillance.”

When the bill was announced, Home Secretary Theresa May MP, the brains bedind the bill, said, “We are setting out a modern legal framework which brings together current powers in a clear and comprehensible way.”

The current draft of the Investigatory Powers Bill is due to be scrutinised by a committee of MPs before being put to Parliament to vote in as law.

Full Scope of UK’s Worrying Surveillance Bill Revealed

The UK Home Secretary, Conservative MP Theresa May, has outlined the full scope of the proposed Investigatory Powers Bill. The bill, which has been teased by both May and UK Prime Minister David Cameron as a legal means by which police and intelligence services can bypass internet and telecommunication encryption and access the internet history of any UK citizen without judicial oversight, has confirmed the fears of many that the concept of privacy on the internet will become a thing of the past in the UK.

The new powers, as revealed by May in Parliament on Wednesday (4th November) and in draft form on the UK Government’s website [PDF], grant UK law enforcement agencies the ability to access and intercept a user’s internet data, which internet service providers will be required by law to store for up to 12 months, and place a legal obligation on companies to allow the UK Government backdoors by which to bypass encryption, but will be powerless to ban end-to-end encryption since such facilities being protected under European Union law.

The response to the bill outside the House of Commons has been almost uniformly negative, with many fearing that it marks an end to internet human rights in the UK, and that tech companies could pull out of the country over it:

A full summary of the Investigatory Powers Bill (via The Guardian):

  • Requires web and phone companies to store records of websites visited by every citizen for 12 months for access by police, security services and other public bodies.
  • Makes explicit in law for the first time security services’ powers for the “bulk collection” of large volumes of personal communications data.
  • Makes explicit in law for the first time the powers of the security services and police to hack into and bug computers and phones. Places new legal obligation on companies to assist in these operations to bypass encryption.
  • New “double-lock” on ministerial authorisation of intercept warrants with a panel of seven judicial commissioners given power of veto. But exemptions allowed in “urgent cases” of up to five days.
  • Existing system of three oversight commissioners replaced with single investigatory powers commissioner who will be a senior judge.
  • Prime minister to be consulted in all cases involving interception of MPs’ communications. Safeguards on requests for communications data in other “sensitive professions” such as journalists to be written into law.
  • New Home Office figures show there were 517,236 authorisations in 2014 of requests for communications data from the police and other public bodies as a result of 267,373 applications. There were 2,765 interception warrants authorised by ministers in 2014.
  • In the case of interception warrants involving confidential information relating to sensitive professions such as journalists, doctors and lawyers, the protections to be used for privileged information have to be spelled out when the minister approves the warrant.
  • Bill includes similar protections in the use of powers to hack or bug the computers and phones of those in sensitive professions as well.
  • Internet and phone companies will be required to maintain “permanent capabilities” to intercept and collect the personal data passing over their networks. They will also be under a wider power to assist the security services and the police in the interests of national security.
  • Enforcement of obligations on overseas web and phone companies, including the US internet giants, in the courts will be limited to interception and targeted communications data requests. Bulk communications data requests, including internet connection records, will not be enforceable.

Image courtesy of WikiMedia.

Microsoft “Bullied” UK Government Over Open Source Standards

Microsoft threatened to move its existing facilities out of the UK should its Parliament’s proposal to promote open source standards for software used by government personnel come to pass. Last year, the Conservative Party revealed plans to ditch Microsoft Office and its associated .doc and .docx formats in favour of the .odf Open Document Format in an effort to save money.

The move was announced by the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, who said, “The software we use in government is still supplied by just a few large companies. A tiny oligopoly dominates the marketplace. I want to see a greater range of software used, so civil servants have access to the information they need and can get their work done without having to buy a particular brand of software.”

But reports have emerged that Microsoft didn’t react well to the proposal to move away from its proprietary software, threatening to move its research facilities out of the UK if the plans were implemented.

Steve Hilton, the Prime Minister’s former Director of Strategy, disclosed that soon after the proposal, Microsoft executives began lobbying MPs to vote against the move, lest they lose the company as a resident in their country.

“Microsoft phoned Conservative MPs with Microsoft R&D facilities in their constituencies and said we will close them down in your constituencies if this goes through,” Hilton revealed. “We just resisted. You have to be brave.”

When the plan was announced, Microsoft even published a blog entry attempting to scare UK businesses into standing against open source standards.

“These decisions will likely impact you, either as a citizen of the UK, a UK business or a company doing or wanting to do business with government,” Microsoft wrote. “This move has the potential to impact businesses selling to government, who may be forced to comply.”

“It also sets a worrying precedent because government is, in effect, refusing to support another internationally recognised open standard and may do so for other similar popular standards in the future, potentially impacting anyone who wishes to sell to government.”

Thank you The Inquirer for providing us with this information.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia.

UK Government Exempt From Laws Making Hacking Illegal

The UK government has adapted existing anti-hacking laws to allow British intelligence and security agencies to legally hack and launch cyber attacks, according to campaigners.

Human rights watchdog organisation Privacy International was in the process of launching legal action against the UK government for unlawful spying by use of hacking and cyber attacks until Parliament changed the law in order to protect themselves. The change not only protects existing actions, but also “grants UK law enforcement new leeway to potentially conduct cyber attacks within the UK,” according to Privacy International. While Privacy International still intends to bring a case against the UK government for its actions, it will now be launched on the basis of “hypothetical facts”.

This marks the second time that the UK has rewritten online surveillance laws to protect its interests: back in February, a revised code of practice for GCHQ gave “UK spy agencies sweeping powers to hack targets, including those who are not a threat to national security nor suspected of any crime,” Privacy International said.

“The underhand and undemocratic manner in which the Government is seeking to make lawful GCHQ’s hacking operations is disgraceful,” Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, said.

“Hacking is one of the most intrusive surveillance capabilities available to any intelligence agency, and its use and safeguards surrounding it should be the subject of proper debate.”

“Instead, the government is continuing to neither confirm nor deny the existence of a capability it is clear they have, while changing the law under the radar, without proper parliamentary debate.”

Last week, GCHQ began recruiting hackers, seeking those who could engage in “computer network operations against terrorists, criminals and others posing a serious threat to the UK”.

Thank you The Independent for providing us with this information.

Social Media Should Simplify Terms and Conditions, UK Parliamentary Committee Recommends

The terms and conditions on social media websites should be radically simplified, the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee has advocated, in a report released on Friday. MPs argue that the complex user agreements in place presently obscure how users’ data can be used. The report calls on the UK government, in conjunction with the Information Commissioner, to create a set of standards and guidelines to make social media terms and conditions more user-friendly.

“Let’s face it, most people click ‘yes’ to terms and conditions contracts without reading them, because they are often laughably long and written in the kind of legalese you need a law degree from the USA to understand, “ says Andrew Miller MP, chair of the Science and Technology Committee. “Socially responsible companies wouldn’t want to bamboozle their users, of course, so we are sure most social media developers will be happy to sign up to the new guidelines on clear communication and informed consent that we are asking the government to draw up.”

The report seems to ignore the legal obligations that social media sites must operate under, and the fact that, unless the website is based in the UK, parliament has no power or jurisdiction to enforce such guidelines.

Source: TNW

EU Votes In Favor Of Breaking Up Google

The Euopean Parliament has voted in favour of ‘breaking up’ Google.

MEPs (Member of European Parliament) voted 384 to 174. The Parliament itself can’t break up Google directly, but the vote will place pressure on EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager to take action.

The motion, which was raised by Andreas Schwab, a German Christian Democrat, and Ramon Tremosa, a Spanish liberal, says that Google is operating unfairly, by using its estimated 90% share of the search engine market to promote its own products and services.

Select European countries, most notably Germany, have also shown displeasure with the way Google aggregates news content, without passing on revenues to the publisher.

While it’s believed the EU won’t exactly break up Google, they may receive a hefty fine. The BBC says that the previous EU competition commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, suggested that the only way to solve this problem, was to fine the company $5 Billion.

Source: The Telegraph, BBC News

European Parliament Votes To Scrap Roaming Fees In EU

Here in Europe we are struck with high mobile phone call charges, extortionate data rates and more while roaming. With smartphones churning through more data than ever thanks for high-speed connections such as 4G, not to mention our modern thirst for data consumption and communication things can get expensive quite quickly when you’re travelling outside of the country where your phone is registered.

Huge reforms are on the way for the telecoms industry here in Europe, and the biggest as that they’re now trying to push forward to make sure that the cost of making a call or downloading internet data in another EU country will remain the same as what you would expect to pay at home. The only downside is that this change isn’t due to take effect until around December 2015, and it still requires approval from EU governments.

The only people unhappy about this are telecoms giants, the local EU governments will be eager to push forward on this one as the flexibility it would give to citizens and the economy are absolutely huge. With 94% of travelling Europeans said to heavily limit their data use while travelling within Europe, there is obviously a huge barrier for the consumer, so as much as this could help businesses, it will also allow loved ones to stay in touch with their families while travelling.

The vote on the new pricing structure package was voted in by 534 vote to 25, ending with the EU Commissioner for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes saying: “consumers are fed up with being ripped off”.

Thank you BBC for providing us with this information.