Britain's secret spy-on-every-call-and-email plan already well underway

Glyn sez, "The UK government has already spent several hundreds million pounds installing a secret mass internet surveillance system at the same time as the home secretary has been telling the public they would not do it and instead would consult on internet monitoring. The program is called 'Mastering the Internet' MTI the kind of name you would expect and an evil genus to come up with. MTI is a major part of the government's Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP). Lockheed Martin has already be awarded contracts worth £200 million and Detica has also won a contract while GCHQ has been allocated a budget of £1 billion over three years. So it is well past the planning stage. The Regulation of interception powers act allows for the inclusion of such interception 'black boxes' - but the order has to be laid before Parliament and approved by a resolution of each House. If this has not happened - and it hasn't - then any ISP installing a 'black box' will be acting illegally."
Spy chiefs are pressing ahead with secret plans to monitor all internet use and telephone calls in Britain despite an announcement by Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, of a ministerial climbdown over public surveillance. ... The £1 billion snooping project - called Mastering the Internet (MTI) - will rely on thousands of "black box" probes being covertly inserted across online infrastructure. ... Jacqui Smith announced that she was ditching controversial plans for a single "big brother" database ... However, she failed to mention that substantial additional sums - amounting to more than £1 billion over three years - had already been allocated to GCHQ for its MTI programme.
Just this morning, I was saying to myself, "I wonder if a journalist asked Jacqui Smith, 'Is there anything that you believe the public has the right to keep private from the government?" whether her answer would be "No."

Seriously, I believe that Jacqui Smith believes that it is proper and good for the government to know literally everything about every person in Britain. And I bet she'd admit it, too, if pressed to name stuff that she things isn't the government's business.

Jacqui Smith's secret plan to carry on snooping (Thanks, Glyn!)


  1. Mere years ago we Americans were pondering fleeing the country to saner governments, but now it might be time for Cory to do the same. BB is one of the few sources I know of that says anything about Britain’s decent into madness, and somehow I’d doubt that Ms. Smith would take kindly to that. Don’t be Winston for our sakes, Cory!

  2. Wooooh! Hooray for the government! I totally support the monitoring of everything and the dragging away of all and any dissenters! Hip hip hooray!!!!! Yay! Doubleplusgood!

  3. I was just reading the same piece after finding the companion article on El Reg.

    Now, it’s pretty much assumed that we’re now in the fag-end of this Labour government. The next election’s due by May 2010, and the opposition are nearly 20 points clear in the polls, and have been for 18-20 months. That’s not the sort of lead that gets turned round short of a Falklands War (clearly not possible here) or a scandal revealing the Tories are all in the pay of bloated, cigar-puffing plutocrats. (In fact, the Tories /are/ the bloated cigar-puffing plutocrats, so there’s no need for backhanders.)

    Rather astonishingly, the current Tory leader has “done a new Labour” – jettisoned a lot of dated, unpopular and “ideological” policies in favour of touchy-feely, green watercolour stuff. (I nearly threw up when I happened to see David Cameron’s speech at the spring conference in Cheltenham, wherein he claimed the Tories are “the party of the NHS, of education, and of social justice” (or words to that effect.)) Admittedly, they had less far to travel to reach this centerist, “Christian Democrat” in European terms, moderate, un-ideological party than Labour did when they jettisoned a century and more of socialist ideals, but it’s still pretty surprising that they’re still making these sort of claims. Amongst other things, they’ve promised (sorry – “pledged”) to cancel ID cards, the NHS “Connecting for Health” centralised IT system, IMP (if Jacqui hadn’t already have claimed to have abandoned the idea) and a few other big government-backed projects cementing mass surveillance and “you have no privacy, get over it” type schemes. (Partly on cost grounds, but they’ve also claimed to oppose them for reasons that almost made me contemplate voting Tory for the first time ever – basically, the right to privacy and freedom from state surveillance without due cause.)

    So, the question is: what will the hated Bullingdonite-Etonist Clique of Lickspittle Revisionists now promise to can this profoundly evil attempt to do an end-run around Parliamentary authority when they get into power?

  4. I have an idea, the government should provide free Internet access to every home, along with a webcam for every room. You can’t have too much security.

  5. Totalitarianism goes down easier when it is presented by a skirt, as the saying goes.


  7. i thought this was old news as far as internet usage went already or was i just prophesizing??? Naturally scared, controlling govts want to obsessively monitor everything. How else can they maintain control from people like me who think that big oppressive controlling govt. Is so prehistoric, outdated, useless, dehabilitating to humanity & should be abolished

  8. @6 Roy Trumbull

    Of course they have, they’re just using it as an instruction manual for government rather than as a warning unfortunately

  9. I sometimes wonder at the competence of our intelligence agencies. Anyone remotely knowledgeable in computer security would know that it’s trivial to encrypt a connection to stop third parties eavesdropping on it. It’s obvious this system won’t catch anything but the most bungling terrorists, whether or not they’re a real threat is of question in itself.

    I can see the business of foreign VPN providers getting a lot better some time soon.

  10. Cory, I’ve been reading your CIVLIB-related stuff since long before you moved to England, and I have to ask: in your opinion, is it actually the case that the Brits are much more inclined to make a seriosu attempt to implement a real, full-on surveillance state than the Americans? Is it simply a matter of perception and the exposure of various programs?

    From where I sit (on the West Coast of the USA) it seems to me that in terms of direct CCTV observation and indirect technological snooping of communications the British are both more overtly surveilled and less likely to object to it than the Americans are.

  11. given beloved leaders infatuation with all things euro, i am sure he is already looking into this for domestic use. for the good of the people, of course

  12. #14 should be,

    Or is it simply a matter of perception and the exposure of various programs?

  13. [I know I’ve said this before, but nobody’s proven me wrong yet…]

    Every nation surveils their citizens on the net. Because they can. Because we let them. The US has proven that merely legislating against it will just mean they do it secretly.

    The answer is to use no plaintext in your internet communications.

    This can be tackled a few ways:

    By the users: use TOR for any browsing that requires security. This makes browsing slower, but is considerably more secure. This will never be the default, though, and almost all people will remain insecure if this is the only fix.

    By the hosts: use HTTPS. You can redirect any user coming to the HTTP version of your site to the HTTPS version. HTTPS is free, unsnoopable, end-to-end encryption. You don’t need a separate IP for each one, just use Server Name Indication.

    By the standards people: browsers need the ability to ask a site “do you support a HTTPS layer? If so, I’ll autoconvert any http links to your site to https”.

    By the the browsers: In addition to the above, HTTP-only pages with forms on need to be a red-addressbar thing, or a “snooping” icon to be displayed by the URL. Yes, this means most of the web becomes red, because most pages have a search box. GOOD. If you don’t want your website to show up red, then get off your lazy asses people, and install SSL! It’s a five minute job!

    The above doesn’t address email, which is considerably MORE broken, and only clientside fixes seem reasonable there: but people veer away from email encryption because they don’t know if their recipient can support it. Would be nice if mail clients could autoquery MTAs with “Do you support encryption?” before sending the email, then pop up a warning to the user that they might want to remove any confidential details if the recipient doesn’t.

  14. Typo, last sentence. Should read “…thinks isn’t the government’s business.” :)

    Well said, and rather alarming. I’m sure Britain is out but is there any country that protects civil liberties that you’d want to live in?

  15. One advantage Americans have for privacy (at least from cameras, less so for the internet) is that our country is ginormous. Just as we’re behind on wi-fi and cellular because of the vast amount of ground we’d need to cover, a government, nation-wide CCTV system would be colossal and hugely expensive, easily bungled, etc. Covering a smaller area like the cities of Britain is much more easily done. :(

  16. where is guy falwks when you need him the most? Probably rolling around in his grave as we speak…

  17. This is futile, bad people will always find a way to communicate secretly until the government is actually monitoring our thoughts.

  18. he’s probably hanging out at 4chan lurking at b/ planing his next raid while not being your personal army…

  19. UK readers will take both announcements with crate-loads of salt. UK governments of every strip and at all levels have a well-documented history of mega-foul-ups on any significant IT contracts.
    Typical scenario is:
    1. they announce this ground-breaking new system,
    2. the press raise a stink over the collossal gazillions it is going to cost,
    3. it then runs orders of magnitude over-budget and
    4. it is never delivered, or at least not in the form originally envisaged.
    5. It is quietly dropped and you never hear any more about it.

    Even if they use fancy scanning software I really dont see this working. What happens if everyone put the word “bomb” after their email signature? I think it is totally pointless and useless and although inclined to be subversive, I am not scared of this.

    As Dewi says, there are always going to be ways round it. In any case by the time they get it to work properly there probably wont be enough power to run the internet anyhow!

  20. Cory,

    Of course that’s what Jacqui Smith believes. She’s a Labour politician – in other words, a raised-from-birth authoritarian socialist with a recent conversion to free-market economics – and so genuinely and sincerely believes that the Government needs to know exactly what the proletariat are doing, for their own good. (Except that since the free-market conversion thing, this gets contracted out.) For someone who honestly thinks that citizens are cogs in the machinery of the state, the idea of privacy is nonsensical.

    As Charlie Stross memorably put it, in the 1980s there was a civil war in the Labour Party between the Trotskyites and the Stalinists, and the Stalinists won.

  21. Well said Greensteam, and good points :)

    I still think it’s our duty as citizens to do our best to ensure that once the system is finally in place and “working”, it is already obsolete and useless!

  22. the best way to subvert a system like this is for as many people as possible (everyone actually) to do suspicious looking activities at all times, using key words and phrases on the phone, email, or on camera to bog down the system with so many false positives that it becomes useless (ECHELON saves all phone conversations with certain words or phrases deemed questionable or subversive so this will get overwhelmed easily if everyone uses bomb, jihad, kill, improvised explosive in their sentences). sure at first a minor handful will be arrested then released or investigated for this type of behavior, but as the numbers of individuals participating in this exercise increases the surveillance state gets clogged just like RIAA suing file sharers eventually it just cant be done because of sustainability issues eventually a saturation limit is reached when this ceases to be profitable or usefull.

  23. Oh noes! But if this ceaseless surveillance goes on and her political star continues to rise, someday the world will inevitably learn of mine and Jacqui’s shared, forbidden love! Every sordid detail will come out, including pictures no human should ever have to view!
    The world must unite to prevent this. Some things must remain private. Think of the retinas.

  24. I’m confused. Who the hell thinks that inundating their intelligence agencies with every phone call and email is going to help them pick out very specific people? Think about how many emails the average office worker sends both internally and externally a day. Its astronomical. Monitoring all this stuff will just increase the chatter making it impossible to find real threats. Everyone with half a brain in any spy agency must know how useless this plan would be. I think this stuff is a horse and pony show, like the Star Wars program. Simple posturing, with little substance. The question I have, who is the British government posturing against? The terrorists or its own people?

  25. So, everyone, start using the word “bomb” and “operation” and “plans” in every email and phone call. Start speaking in weird coded nonsense: “the grooms are dressed for their weddings, and the hovercraft is on the horizon.” If they are overwhelmed with false-positives they will be forced to give up in disgust.

  26. @32 Ill Lich:

    If you can get “everyone” to do that, you might as well ask “everyone” to start using PGP (or another open-source public key encryption method). It would be a lot more effective.

    I’ve known people who have an email signature filled with keywords: “Bomb, Jihad, Terrorists Are Like So Totally Cool, etc..” But I think overwhelming the system with false positives is much harder than you’d think. First of all, these messages are not being scanned (initially) by people, and algorithms don’t ever give up in disgust. Also, data mining is a very advanced science. Tricks like dropping in lists of keywords at the end of every email are not likely to produce any false-positives.

    Good encryption is an easy technical solution to this, and there’s no reason it can’t be seamlessly built into every email client. The only reason it’s not universally used now is because people simply aren’t aware of the need for it. That’s the silver lining to this kind of news story–the government(s) can’t do this if users learn to take a few simple steps to keep their information private.

  27. Hear, hear, nosehat: though end-to-end email encryption will need a Big Push from the main software manufacturers before it happens. Hey, it happened with the coloured browser addressbars, it can happen with email – right?

    Probably not :(

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