back to article Bulk interception is NOT mass surveillance, says parliamentary committee

Parliament's intelligence committee report into security and privacy has concluded GCHQ's bulk interception of net traffic is not mass surveillance, and so permissible. However, it also called for new umbrella laws to regulate the actives of spy agencies and provide greater transparency. The Intelligence and Security …

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  1. Ian 56

    "Greater transparency"

    Fkn winds me up this does.

    How about SOME transparency?

    In this country as in almost every other the system of regulation is exactly backwards. Those with the most power should be the most heavily regulated, those with the least power should be the least regulated.

  2. Amorous Cowherder
    Facepalm

    Going off-topic I know, but please stop with the moronic jargon that was trendy 15 years ago. "cyber criminals"? FFS! They are just "criminals", full stop. Whether they be online, offline, on the moon, wherever! No one says, "That real, hard-copy criminal just stole my mobile phone!"

  3. 2+2=5 Silver badge

    Pure sophistry

    Dear Parliamentary Intelligence Committee,

    Please note that the amount of data filtering undertaken is ENTIRELY IRRELEVANT because the "mass" in "mass surveillance" refers to the number of people encompassed by it, not the volume of data.

    Yours faithfully,

    1. william 10

      Re: Pure sophistry

      You are making the classic mistake, and falling into their weasel word trap :-).

      The security services try to distinguish between surveillance & collection, you used the phrase "mass surveillance" and they will claim they are not doing that, so where's the issue? Of course the issue is we are not happy with their "mas collection".

      If you ban their "mass collection", how do they then get the data they need to perform their duty "which is to observing selected people's actions and communications". I think one of the issues the security services have is bad people will try and hide there actions and communications and the only way to find them is mass collection of data and filter this in a effort to identify only data from identified bad people.

      1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        Re: Pure sophistry

        @William 10

        > If you ban their "mass collection", how do they then get the data they need to perform their duty "which is to observing selected people's actions and communications".

        They can observe selected people using time-honoured techniques: by bugging their phones, their computers and watching their houses. Modern technology means that none of these activities requires a 'spy' to sit in a car across the street for hours on end any more. And more to the point: modern technology means that none of these activities requires a vast, information slurping infrastructure that spans the globe, with everyone's communications being shared amongst the 5 eyes.

        1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Big Brother

          Re: Pure sophistry

          "They can observe selected people using time-honoured techniques: by bugging their phones, their computers and watching their houses. Modern technology means that none of these activities requires a 'spy' to sit in a car across the street for hours on end any more. And more to the point: modern technology means that none of these activities requires a vast, information slurping infrastructure that spans the globe, with everyone's communications being shared amongst the 5 eyes."

          True.

          But that would require judgement of who is a real threat.

          They prefer the view of Comrade Stalin "Better a 100 innocent men to to prison than one guilty man goes free."

      2. Uffish

        Re: how do they then get the data they need to perform their duty

        To my mind it is pure sophistry to argue that mass collection (even if filtered to remove "I'm on the train") can be relied on to find worthwhile information. They indulge in mass collection because they haven't a clue.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: how do they then get the data they need to perform their duty

          If they are looking for specific threats then no it won't work.

          If they are looking for a way to have some dirt on everyone it works quite well.

      3. nijam

        Re: Pure sophistry

        > The security services try to distinguish between surveillance & collection.

        That's fine ... until they look at what they've collected. In that moment, collection and surveillance become one and the same. Did they mention that?

        OTOH, if they don't look at what they've collected, they shouldn't waste resources collecting it in the first place. And if they're collecting stuff unnecessarily, they should have their budgets cut (like everyone else).

        But anyway, who believes what they say now?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pure sophistry

      Dear 2+2=5,

      We know. And if we don't know, we don't care.

      Yours faithfully,

    3. NoneSuch Silver badge

      Parlament reminds me of this...

      Captain Zapp Brannigan: We'll just set a new course for that empty region over there, near that blackish, holeish thing.

    4. Chris Fox

      More sophistry: small percentage of bearers...

      "GCHQ’s systems operate on a very small percentage of the bearers that make up the internet."

      Right, more misdirection and sophistry..., I'm guessing that this "very small percentage of bearers" also just happens to carry most of the UK traffic (e.g. just targetting LINX gives access to the bulk of the traffic for the users of over 500 ISPs). Why waste time with the numerous minnows that carry a tiny fraction of the traffic, when a handful of bigger fish give you access to almost everything in the UK?

      (And even if every UK ISP were being targetted directly, this would still be a "small percentage of the bearers that make up the [global] internet".)

      If the committee actually understands this, then they are being duplicitous, if they don't, then they are incompetent. Neither is acceptable.

  4. malle-herbert
    Big Brother

    Bulk interception of net traffic is not mass surveillance...

    Yes...yes it is...

    Slurping everybody's data whether they committed a crime or not and storing all that data for an unspecified peiod of time (or indefinitely) = mass surveillance.

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: Bulk interception of net traffic is not mass surveillance...

      Mass collection is not mass surveillance and just saying the two are the same won't cause the government or the courts to believe they are.

      I have said before that it's no good complaining about mass surveillance if we want to stop mass collection; the government will otherwise simply continue to say they don't do mass surveillance while continuing mass collection.

      1. bigtimehustler

        Re: Bulk interception of net traffic is not mass surveillance...

        To be fair, they will continue it whatever you decide to call it. They have no interest in what you want or what anyone else wants outside the system.

      2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        Re: Bulk interception of net traffic is not mass surveillance...

        "I have said before that it's no good complaining about mass surveillance if we want to stop mass collection; the government will otherwise simply continue to say they don't do mass surveillance while continuing mass collection."

        Exactly

        And while protestors continue to ignore this subtle (but critical) point the data fetishists can continue to indulge their unhealthy obsession with everyone's information

        1. Swarthy

          Re: Bulk interception of net traffic is not mass surveillance...

          But when you complain about mass collection, it turns out that they don't do mass collection; but rather "broad-target threat scanning", "situational awareness elevation", or "metadata filtering". Because "It only counts as collection if we store it on archival media; this (meta)data is only stored on SSD's, which are not archival." - The tape backups are part of a different process, and are not used to look at historical data at all (Unless someone thinks their SO's 'old college friend' may have been a bit more).

    2. Tom 35

      Re: Bulk interception of net traffic is not mass surveillance...

      But they changed the name.

      It's like the marketing department at my old job. It's not spam, it's an email blast.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've spotted a flaw....

    'The committee of nine MPs and peers....'

    Wouldn't this whole thing work better if the committee was made up of people who know what they are talking about?

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: I've spotted a flaw....

      It would, but the vetting process (by guess who) will weed them out at an early stage.

    2. SundogUK Silver badge

      Re: I've spotted a flaw....

      It would then be staffed entirely by people who worked for the intelligence services. No thanks.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I've spotted a flaw....

      And one of them is Hazel Blears. Jesus fucking H Christ. It's bad enough that she's still an MP.

  6. h4rm0ny

    "Yes it is"

    --Everyone else.

  7. kbb

    "the need for a thorough overhaul of the current, overly complicated, legislation..."

    "...thus allowing us not to simply replace like-for-like, but to give us the opportunity to add in all those other things that we, of course, do not currently do (*cough*) but would like to do."

  8. Graham Marsden
    Big Brother

    Nice whitewash, Hazel...

    Hazel Blears said that it's not mass surveillance because the Security Services do not have the ability to monitor everyone's e-mails, web traffic, tweets and so on.

    What she did *NOT* say is whether they *would like* to be able to do this and have it on their wish-lists for when the technology improves so that they can!

    1. Hellcat

      Re: Nice whitewash, Hazel...

      It's not mass surveillance.

      Just like this is not my primary residence.... no wait now it's not this one.... no wait it's back to the first one again.

      I've seen less slippery hagfish.

      1. Immenseness
        WTF?

        Re: Nice whitewash, Hazel...

        She also displayed her fine committees understanding of the issue (while laughing almost constantly throughout and generally making light of the situation) by explaining in a condescending way to those worrying that the agencies were slurping all of our data, that:

        "the internet consists of over 100,000 fibre optic cables and the agencies can only access a few of those".

        Well colour me reassured and relieved.

        It beggars belief that these ill educated (at least in IT) people are making decisions about all of our lives.

    2. Peter Simpson 1
      Happy

      Re: Nice whitewash, Hazel...

      "It's not illegal when the President does it"

      - Richard M. Nixon

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nice whitewash, Hazel...

      When the phrase 'sleepwalking into dictatorship' is used, Blears is a really cracking example of how it comes to pass. She has far too much power (frankly anything beyond deciding which soap to use in the Parliamentary toilets would be too much) wedded to an almost total dearth of understanding of the workings of the subjects on which she so confidently pronounces. And while she's an especially fine example, parliament is stocked to the nines with a whole load more of ignorant, egotistical muppets.

      Not a huge surprise the police, security services and businesses simply run rings round them all and basically do what they want without let or hindrance.

  9. Dinsdale Piranha

    Newspeak

    Interesting to see fishing re-branded as 'lead generation' and automated searching of your email content distinguished from 'reading' it. Either the ISC is unable to make these associations or it is studiously avoiding doing so.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No comment necessary

    “War is peace.

    Freedom is slavery.

    Ignorance is strength.”

    ― George Orwell, 1984

    Or a slightly more modern interpretation (heavily influenced by the original): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKL_I4pJs84

    Capt. John Sheridan: "And, uh, when exactly did all this happen?"

    Julie Musante: "When we rewrote the dictionary. "

  11. SolidSquid

    "GCHQ is not collecting or reading everyone’s emails: it does not have the legal authority, the resources, or the technical capability to do so"

    Probably not, maybe not and hahahaha, yeah right. If they can intercept the email package enough to store the metadata they can store the rest of it too, and unless you're using PGP on your emails that means they can read them.

    In fairness they probably *aren't* reading them all, but from what this committee says (and other similar ones have said), they don't consider automated scans in place of humans to be "reading". While still fitting to most of this, GCHQ could scan all emails, find any with red flags and then only store those ones until they get a warrant to read them. After all, it's now an investigation into the person who sent them, so they have grounds to get a warrant and to store it.

    1. Peter Simpson 1
      Happy

      "GCHQ is not collecting or reading everyone’s emails: it does not have the legal authority, the resources, or the technical capability to do so"

      So, ha, ha, we got the NSA to do it for us!

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        "So, ha, ha, we got the NSA to do it for us!"

        Literally true.

        Britons are foreigners to the US.

        US nationals (or at least comms originating from the US) are foreigners to the UK.

        "Conflict" what conflict?

    2. Schultz Silver badge
      Holmes

      ...could scan all emails, find any with red flags and then only store those ones

      Right, the red flag being that it's not the 538925th copy of some spam mail. This way they can easily claim to not store most of the email traffic. Surely, advanced algorithms can be used to filter out other trivial dross ("I'll be late tonight, darling" and similar) and they'll be left with the truly dangerous original thought crimes.

  12. Kane Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    The committee established that "bulk interception cannot be used to search for and examine the communications of an individual in the UK unless GCHQ first obtains a specific authorisation naming that individual, signed by a Secretary of State".

    Unless one of our Special Relationship® partners happens to do the bulk interception/collection on our behalf.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      But it can examine the meta-data, who you communciated with, who they communicated with, what sites you visited, who else visited those sites , where you traveled, who else was near you, who else was on the same tube train...

      But nothing that would be an invasion of privacy.

  13. Amphibious RawCod

    newspeak indeed

    "bulk interception is not mass surveillance". Let's break that down class...

    bulk is not mass

    interception is not surveillance

  14. TitterYeNot
    Coat

    And in other news...

    An independant report finds that all politicians are sincere, hard working philanthropists.

    An undercover investigation reveals that the Pope is really a Level 8 Scientologist.

    And Jordan publishes her PhD. thesis on 'Assessing the holistic effect of radical feminism on men's perception of relationships in the modern paradigm'...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And Racial Profiling is not Racism.

    No, wait, the other thing.

  16. John Deeb

    yes they can!

    The committee established that "bulk interception cannot be used to search for and examine the communications of an individual in the UK unless GCHQ first obtains a specific authorisation naming that individual, signed by a Secretary of State".

    Summarized with "yes we can do that if the right person pushes the right buttons but trust us!".

    Thereby misunderstanding the majority of the resistance against this mechanism: that its presence becomes already the abomination because only a slight change in legislation or national emergency level could easily change this "signed" procedure. The only proper protection against this is then by not having the infrastructure at all as it will take a lot of time building one from scratch. It's the same with nuclear weapons as there's only way to make sure one doesn't end up using them in ways that will extract a price too big to pay.for all.

  17. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    I think I'll find myself a small disconnected island somewhere...

    "This new legal framework should be based on "explicit avowed capabilities", together with the authorisation procedures, privacy constraints, transparency requirements, targeting criteria, sharing arrangements, oversight, and other safeguards that apply to the use of those capabilities."

    Yes, and and prior to Snowden we were told that mass surveillance and interception was not actually happening and where it was required, that any requirement for it was actually covered by a legal framework. Except it was happening, and it wasn't covered by anything other than a tangled web of supposed regulations, with none of them tested legally.

    Overall, the problem here is that the public no longer believes anything these people say. Last I heard it was government by democracy, not dictatorship. Has it changed?

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: I think I'll find myself a small disconnected island somewhere...

      Last I heard it was government by democracy, not dictatorship. Has it changed?

      Yes. Didn't you get the email? Oh.. wait.. it was intercepted and hasn't been forwarded yet.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I think I'll find myself a small disconnected island somewhere...

        "Has it changed?"

        My Mum always put the moment the switch flipped as that day in the late 90's when the Chinese president turned up and, immediately before he arrived to visit Blair, the police parked three vans in a position to obscure a bunch of 'Free Tibet' protesters from his sight.

        The crap we get now is Blairs real legacy, including the mindset of the apologists that have followed in his wake.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I think I'll find myself a small disconnected island somewhere...

          Political Correctness == Thought control

          Freedom of expression == unruly masses who disagree with current policies

  18. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    We object to..

    Bulk surveillance

    Bulk interception

    Mass surveillance

    Bulk surveillance

    and any other synonym combinations you may wish to substitute.

    Is that clear enough?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We object to..

      You can object to what you want until you're blue in the face.

      p.s. whoever you vote for (or don't vote for) in the elections, matters not. We Stay In.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm Happy

    They used the word interception!!

    Although not happy what that still means....

  20. Spaceman Spiff

    A minimal IQ?

    You'd think that there would be a minimum IQ to qualify one as an MP... Since these are all obviously idiots (IQ < 30), how can we take anything they say seriously, seriously?

    1. Emperor Zarg

      Re: A minimal IQ?

      Feeble minded, I think was the phrase you were looking for.

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