back to article Former spook bigwigs ask for rewrite of UK’s surveillance laws

Blighty's Independent Surveillance Review, commissioned by former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and conducted by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), has concluded that spy agencies aren't breaking the law - and recommends a new legislative framework and oversight regime. Ultimately aiming to enable "the public at …

  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "seen no evidence" "..British government knowingly acts illegally" "intercepting private comms"

    They just didn't bother to check the law in the first place?

    The group toured GCHQ with blindfolds on ?

    It's not "intercepted" till a human listens to them ? Just feeding it through speech recognition / key word detection and archiving it to unlimited storage is not "intercepting."

    I see why it's difficult to develop English language parsers.

    What's said is not in doubt. What's meant OTOH is a whole different question.

  2. Graham Marsden


    Why does the expression "Don't Ask, Don't Tell..." come to mind?

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Dear spooks,

    Go backdoor yourselves.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    "there cannot be "no go" areas"...

    Well... I would consider a conversation between me and my lawyer a 'no go' area !

    1. Bronek Kozicki

      Re: "there cannot be "no go" areas"...

      As I would consider any conversation in the privacy of my home.

      Yes I understand spooks may get a warrant to bug me - let them, but they still need to bother with 1. judicial supervision 2. actual effort placing targetted bug. There must be no shortcuts for these two, that's what this is all about.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    totally legitamit

    The problem is most of the laws being used are 100+ years old. Not designed to handle the industrial scale of the spooks.

    1. P. Lee

      Re: totally legitamit

      >The problem is most of the laws being used are 100+ years old.

      No, the problem is an annoyed population.

  6. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Yeah, well, good luck with that...

    Report saying it was nonsense to apply the same laws intended for Her Majesty's Postal Service to the Internet handed to Call me Dave, Call me Dave says this report is a sound basis to do what the hell he likes and will do so after he's finished emasculating the BBC and the unions.

    Now if the Lib Dems were still in government the report might be worth something.

    1. Richard Taylor 2

      Re: Yeah, well, good luck with that...

      But not Labour

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yeah, well, good luck with that...

      Now if the Lib Dems were still in government the report might be worth something.

      What, like their promise on tuition fees that turned out to have been written on Medicated Izal?

      Lib Dems. Don't make me laugh.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Yeah, well, good luck with that...

        Well, just go over all the nasty party's policy announcements in the days following their election win. The Lib Dems were useful after all.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pull the other one

    "On the other hand, we have seen evidence that the present legal framework authorising the interception of communications is unclear

    Stunning. So the conclusion is its all completely legal and proportionate and all they have is a bit of a PR issue with clarity in the public mind. What utter bollocks. As usual, its a one sided 'conversation' in which someone purports to know the public mind, but strangely enough comes up with a really pretty "business as usual" shaped solution while claiming some sort of reform. How very Blairite.

    The fact is, privacy is and will remain something that each defines for themselves according to their perception and needs, most of which will fall far inside the bounds of legality. All GCHQs cheerleaders are doing is fooling themselves if they think bandying this drivel around changes that one jot.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pull the other one

      All GCHQs cheerleaders are doing is fooling themselves if they think bandying this drivel around changes that one jot.

      But it works. Look at how in the Blair years, government would carry out some unrepresentative focus group "research", ask this group some exceptionally leading questions to support a pre-determined policy, and then do that, complete with fanfares about how people wanted ID cards.

      At one point the liars, thieves and clowns of government were claiming over 80% of the populations supported ID cards:

      This time round the Nazis of the Home Office are determined to pretend that the public want their communications intercepted, scanned and stored forever, using the same approach of focus groups fresh out of homes for the weak minded, and questions like "You'd rather we intercepted all potential terrorist/paedo communications to PROTECT YOU, wouldn't you?"

      Theresa May, you're a nazi shithead, and the only question I have for you, is "what it is about the role of home secretary that converts every appointee into a nazi shithead?" Poor old Jack Straw was quite decent and liberal before he got "upgraded", cyberman style.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Pull the other one

        "But it works"

        Yes, it works in the short term to keep the wolves from the door, but in the end it just pushes the problems up the road, which is usually the downfall of those who do it in the end.

        The 80 percent you cite for Blairs ID project is an excellent example. I can clearly recall the original float of the idea after 'consultation' (possibly the 2002 one mentioned in your link), punting the idea of massive public acceptance of the idea, which to me personally sounded extremely improbable. It quickly turned out it was a poll of 1500 people fed a very selective version of the facts and asked a very loaded question. Within minutes of that coming out the very vocal objections came thick and fast and NO2ID was formed and took up the cudgel; Labour's easy ride and glorious polls were well and truly over. For all the wasted money, time and political capital, there never really was a prospect of the scheme being fully implemented, although it was a bit of a nail biter to the end. It would simply have finally failed where the Tory poll tax failed; on implementation, in violent protest, lost votes and substantial non-compliance.

        The tactic also bought Blair his war, but delivered the Pyrrhic victory that shredded the last of his credibility and much of the middle east, so "it works" was an absolute disaster that was easily avoided. The difference with the current situation re surveillance is that so much of what it being done remains secret and subject to guesswork by opponents, notwithstanding Snowdens leaks. It might look like an advantage in the short term, but I think both David Anderson and the RUSI recognise that the backlash that will come from pushing accountability and a degree of transparency up the road is probably not worth the short term gain, even though they both wave the legality and 'business as usual' arguments, which I personally believe are unsustainable even in the current short term.

        A great many of the tech and academic worlds brightest minds are firmly on the right side of this, as are most of the commercial arguments for large tech companies, and it's these combined that I think that will finally dictate how it pans out by making the collection of data too politically and financially expensive to be sustainable, particularly in a very globalised world. Even the NSAs deep pockets have limits, especially if the political wind shifts as it appears to be doing in some quarters. Governments could take the gloves off and go for the full fat version of the totalitarianism they seem to be tinkering with aspects of at the moment, but however many bones you break or graves you fill, history pretty clearly shows it isn't sustainable for very long in the great scheme of things once you've lost the moral high ground - and thanks to the additional pressure of business screwing privacy, that is already rapidly slipping away.

        So, for my money, the short termism being indulged in here will be even more damaging than is usually the case to those dumb enough to deploy it, however ugly things currently look.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Snooping costs

    I may have grabbed the wrong end of the stick, but from my point of view the bigger issue is the potential cost of data retention (and consequent security concerns) for UK businesses. At the moment a UK business has to hand over data on a client if appropriately requested, but it is essentially up to the business how much data they store.

    If we are required to keep all our customers data for X months then for some services (video messaging, vm-provisioning, vdi, object storage etc) the costs could be astronomical, putting a UK based business at a significant disadvantage to say a US or EU one that would not have any legal requirement to retain data.

    Or have I just been playing with tinfoil too much?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Snooping costs

      Au Contraire monsieur AC, you are spot on.

      The cost of this surveillance insanity and its knockdown effects on technological progress, job creation and human prosperity are its very worst consequences. These exciting new snoop-snoop policies and poorly understood "counter-measures" so beloved of our "democratic" political masters are a major drain on national finances and human capital. With zero to little return, I might add, unless you are a cyber crook or TLA with an unlimited budget.

      To draw a historic parallel, when the West (mostly the US) was spending 4% of its GDP on military defence last millenium, the USSR was spending 25 % of its own just to keep up. This is the main reason the USSR "lost" the Cold War. On the upside, lots of engineers, aerospace companies and other revenue spinners were gainfully employed. Innovative new technologies like the Internet and GPS were also developed during this period. Not always the best use of capital perhaps, but still "sustainable".

      But Star Wars, nuclear arsenals and other MAD programs became "unsustainable" economic activities for the Soviets, so they had to drop out of the race.

      For some reason, I think today's MIC believes it will also spend its way to victory on the cyber battlefield.

      Unfortunately, this reasoning is fraught with problems.

      1) Firstly, you don't need a massive industrial capacity to make cyber weapons, you need brains, knowledge, patience and time. No one country has a monopoly on these. In fact, the West is starting to run low on many of them. And people with brains, knowledge, patience and time are not always interested in world domination and MAD policies. Many would rather write computer games or build the next trillion dollar internet company.

      2) You can see and target missile silos, subs and other offensive capability with expensive, publicly visible counter-measures. To counter (or use) cyber weapons, see above.

      3) During the 60s, many people cursed the arms race, but fear of instant mutual annihilation by Uncle Sam and the Motherland helped keep the party going. Cyber weapons or even terrorism don't instill quite the same level of existential fear in people even if they can also threaten economic livelihoods and their way of life. (See above for counter measures).

      4) Since the only conceivable way to make a "fail-safe" deterrent to cyber-weapons would be to control everyone's knowledge, access and use of the internet and its associated technologies, the MIC and powers now seem hell-bent on doing just this. This is why we have things like TIA, airport body scanners, comms metadata capture by phone and internet companies and massive data warehouses in Utah. Should work again right? Once we have impoverished those FOSS using terriers and furriners will have won the war!

      5) The threat of terrorism is pretty large in people's minds, thanks to the media and concerted gov't actions to keep the flames burning, actively or passively, even if statistics don't bear out the actual risks. Scared people will still vote for big military budgets and hawkish policies.

      The saddest part of this reasoning is that the fear-based military spend of post WWII had a net positive effect on economic growth and prosperity. But today's fear-based military spending against invisible or hard to see enemies appears to be having the opposite effect.

      More importantly, people without hope, free will and room to maneuver can never move forward. I'd say that in this particular cold war, the Russians and Chinese truly have the upper hand. Given the increasingly lucrative nature of cyber crime and the increasingly dimmer initiatives coming out of Western capitals to counter it, I am not very optimistic about our prospects. We will more likely be the ones queuing up for bread (after our bank accounts have been ransacked and the government has spent every last tax dollar electronically fingerprinting everyone and everything) unless a lot changes and fast.

      Meanwhile, the Muscovite techie pwning wide boys will be driving all the fast cars and riding all the fast women (using your credit card numbers).

      Depressing ramble I know, but it has been a very long day and an even longer 15 years. I just keep hoping these idiotic people will go away. Maybe they can be employed as meter maids or something.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Snooping costs @ AC and RTROI [Real Time Return On Investment]

        Welcome to the party, AC. Jump right into IT's Active Proprietary Program and NEUKlearer HyperRadioProActivity ..... Ringing in the Changes ... where the Cloud Space is certainly considerably more than just AI and a just crazy place for SMARTR Being whenever capable of delivering Futures in Phormations ...... Ab Fab Fabless Fabricated Virtual Realities.

        And yes, there be no valid reason why such should not be enjoyed by Muscovite techie pwning wide boys and girls if that be where all the future driving action is ... In the Exotic Erotic East rather than Wacky Wild West.

  9. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Numpties to the Fore is not a Recipe for Future Success and Continuity of Prosperity

    “Nobody has made any proposal to us to insert backdoors," he [Sir David Omand] claimed. Rather what has been said is that there cannot be "no go" areas, explaining that there "cannot be areas in which the police are told they are not allowed to seek for information.”

    Hmmm? Some would tell you that the City and Parliament in Westminster and the crippled and crippling banking sector are no go areas for Mr Plod. And all available evidence would appear to fully endorse that view and vulnerability for export and exploitation.

    So whatever happens when “cannot be” is really “should not be” and intelligence chiefs and police appear powerless to intervene and right wrongs?

    New intelligence and police chiefs is the obvious answer, methinks, for presently would they be failing in protecting the nation and nations from all sorts of weird shenanigans in support of an easily compromised outdated, outmoded and outnoded system.

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