back to article Election makes net snooping a pariah policy

With a general election looming, it's a brave politician that includes unpopular laws in his department's final legislative programme. So news that Home Secretary Alan Johnson has hoofed plans to capture and store details of every voice call, SMS, web browsing session, IM conversation and social network communication into the …


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  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    ISP's. Talk to your local MPs

    You employ local people in their constituency.

    Explain. It's expensive to them. Troublesome and (most of all) it *wont* do what it claims.

  2. Sillyfellow

    maintain capability ?

    what is meant by "maintain capability" ?

    I thought gvt were 'pushing ahead' to get 'necessary legislation' for new powers which would give the 'authorities' NEW capabilities. which wouldn't be 'maintaining' or 'retaining' anything.

    unless of course they have already being doing this illegally without 'necessary legislation', in which case that would explain the use of the terms 'maintain' and 'retain'.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    A useful reminder...

    Great piece, Chris. It IS worth reminding everyone that IMP isn't going to go away just because the Home Secretary dare not raise the issue right now. With all the major Law Enforcement Agencies very, very keen to see such things as DPI put into practice (if they are not doing it already?), there is NO way such Government-sanctioned net snooping will not eventually happen on a widespread basis.

    Labour no doubt hope that by not mentioning it, the general public will somehow 'forget' that their agenda for a surveillance society is still very much alive and well. And when the likes of SOCA and CEOP start bleating on about 'the need' for such measures you can expect almost every supine politician - of whatever party - to fall meekly into line and grant them their every wish. History - especially recent history - will back me up on this.

    Won't somebody please think of the children?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It seems to me it has long since come down to which country one ought to go to and/or which country would be willing to take British citizens seeking political asylum.

    Really, Everyone who cares about democracy and freedom should begin to actively plan to get out - possibly before the new, Western, iron curtain comes down. IMP will be eventually effectively tapping all phones (except those with exemptions; guess who they'll be) and if this country that once allegedly cared about phone tapping requiring a court order from an independently-minded court, is now going to let the screws have their own way without exception, which is what is happening, Britain is being turned into what is at best an *open* prison.

    After 2010 you have to have an ID card to leave the country? Call it 'parole'.

    You know, if this country is full of smart people who care about freedom but are too gutless to do anything about it, I for one don't want to stay here.

  5. lukewarmdog

    Claims Shmaims

    "Claims we must "maintain the capability" of investigators to access communications records have been led by senior officers in the most emotive areas of policing"

    Politics at its best. If the claims were being made by the coastguard because people were importing cheap wine or by the prisons association because there was just too much fun happening on the yard, there would be no public support.

    "We must analyse every data packet for the sake of the children".

    Suuure.. I fancy a job in this area so I can pick up some tasty insider trading tips.

  6. AndrueC Silver badge

    Knowing where we stand

    Upgrading the national infrastructure:

    * One half arsed report that misses the point, specifies outdated requirements, allows existing infrastructure to be withdrawn and ultimately says 'if it's too hard, don't bother'.

    * 50p tax on almost everyone to cover a small %ge of the country.

    Snooping on your own citizens

    * A couple of billion funding.

    * Investing in the latest technology.

    Yeah, we all know where we stand. Remember folks - it's an election year. All we need now is someone to vote for that isn't a complete pillock.

    Fail because..well - I live here and I'm getting sick of it.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Avoiding the political heat not too difficult

    All it takes is to make IMP reasonable. One could already tape every phone call with at least one endpoint in the country, and GCHQ could probably catch a few more, and store it indefinitely. Would that be reasonable? Would it even be reasonable to not record the meat but just the meta data (who called whom, when, where, etc.)? Same with scanning all letters or just recording their sender and addressee information, postage stamp and mark, and so on. The only way intercepting communications is acceptable is under judicial oversight and only when it is deemed necessairy for some investigative task.

    I say the internet is just as much a carrier of communications as the combined telcos or the carriers of mail. Thus making IMP reasonable; providing tapping capability for when really needed but not infringing on privacy wholesale, is to do exactly that: Provide a tapping capability. It is exactly not: Keep a running tap and store everything, being excessively nosy all the time.

    It saddens me greatly that this point appears to be lost on just about everybody involved. The internet isn't all that different, all things considered.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Insert fart joke here..

    "IMP was brewed in the powerful belly of the UK's intelligence apparatus, GCHQ"

    Even more reason to hope they keep holding it in, if they let it out it'll cause a stink, etc

  9. bell

    re: Avoiding political heat

    The Internet is not all that different, in terms of the protection we should expect for our privacy. It is very different in terms of what can be accomplished in an automated fashion though.

    I have no doubt that the desire for wholesale surveillance and fishing expeditions in the data was always there. The three things that make a government willing to try it now are:

    - The cold war is over, so the "we won't win on their terms" objection to mass surveillance has gone

    - The goal is very close to technically achievable (assuming shedloads of funding)

    - A peculiar belief that it's somehow less intrusive and dehumanising if done by computers in black boxes than by men in black coats.

    Not saying I agree with any of the reasoning, but that's what I think it comes down to.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    funny thing

    Funny thing is, '9/11' terrorists (and most other terrorists who've been succesful so far) have included people and information known to anti-terror forces. The problem was that the information was lost in a sea of irrelevance.

    How does it make anyone "safer" to have even more useless irrelevance?

    Unless by anyone we mean civil servants, politicos and, contractors.

  11. N2


    In political terms means "we'll do it later anyway", just like iD cards.

    Hopefully Im off somewhere else soon

  12. MinionZero
    Big Brother

    It seems they are going to try to force Big Brother on us whichever lot get into power...

    They want Big Brother because they want power over people and Big Brother is power beyond their wildest dreams. They are not interested in listening to us (because they want power over us (in their mind, they rule over us, we don't rule over them (even for a second), so they never want to really listen to us, they want power), so we are going to have to stand up to them, otherwise they will keep finding ways to keep feature creeping Big Brother in over us. They already have more power to monitor and record the population than even Hitler could have ever achieved back in his time.

    "it's a brave politician that includes unpopular laws in his department's final legislative programme"

    Which also means by forcing through unpopular laws they then give us good examples of politicians taking actions they know are not wanted by the people they are suppose to represent. Which proves they work against us (for their own agenda) instead of representing us, which is their job. Time and time again we have to suffer examples of these two faced control freaks lying to us, to get into political power, then they go off and do what they want. :(

    So go ahead Alan Johnson, make your move. He has already shown his utter arrogance and contempt for people by sacking people who disagree with him and he has also shown his utter contempt for all of us, by recently (in the past 2 weeks) and secretly giving literally Police State powers to local councils, which he made even worse by sneaking these law changes past all of us, without even telling anyone (even the police!) about these shocking new law changes. i.e.

    Almost everyone I speak to these days is angry at this government, so please go ahead Alan Johnson, make your move, bring in one more unpopular law, we dare you, because with each new law change you increase the angry calls to throw NuLabour out of power before the next election. We can no longer trust you lot in power to run the country even for a few more months. You are all too harmful to privacy, liberty, freedom and democracy.

    They keep showing that talking to them is now utterly pointless, because they don't want to listen and they bring down anyone who tries to speak out against them. So now its time to stand up against them. So please go ahead Alan Johnson, ever more of us dare you to make your next move. MPs like him keep showing they are not our representatives, they are a bunch of arrogant greedy lying self centered Narcissistic scum bags.

    So how long before we get the Internet 3 strikes law forced through?. ... how about following that with in-car GPS monitoring boxes? ... or I know, how about pushing ID cards again? ... why don't they just burn via laser scanner bar codes onto our head and be done with it. Like branding cattle, its the attitude they have towards us already and it'll make us easier to herd behind their self serving political goals, to give them ever more power and personal gain. :(

  13. John Smith 19 Gold badge


    "All it takes is to make IMP reasonable."

    You miss the point. Under the EU Data Reteion Directive we are *all* suspects.

    And the assorted data fetishists whose wet dream this is dont *care* about guilt. They want the traffic data, but of course just to make sure your not hiding anything in that traffic data they want to DPI the *contents* of the packets you send as well.

    Underneath their excuses they want it because they can have it. Aside form the practical ability to collect dirt on anyone at any time (although some still think the whole identify a terrorist by the patten of their contacts should still work) they seem to have some idea of a half glimpsed Nirvana, where anything "bad" is not allowed to happen.

    Serenity. Forever.

    expressed that way does their thinking sound a bit delusional to you?

    You can gues what DVD is n my pocket.

  14. Eponymous Cowherd
    Thumb Up

    Re: funny thing

    ***"The problem was that the information was lost in a sea of irrelevance."***

    And the real criminals / terrorists, knowing IMP exists, will take measures (encryption, darknets, etc) to ensure they cannot be snooped on, making the ratio between valid intelligence and noise even greater.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re: re: Avoiding political heat

    You're entirely right that the internet opens up automation possibilities not seen before. Actually, that's only half true: The internet is a side effect of the technologies that made that possible, but they're far more pervasive than that. It is a testament of bureaucratic inertia that they're just about the last ones to pick up. That also is a large reason why privacy is ever so much more important: We now need to know in painful detail what we think is privacy and to achieve and protect it rather than relying on inertia to preserve it.

    If we succeed, we may end up with an astoundingly efficient government that is run by a very few civil servants that do the things only government can do, but little else. If we fail, then we end up with a government doing what the STASI did so well despite their paper limits. I visited not too long ago the museum in their former headquarters, and it is scary. Where the WWI department of the Imperial War Museum made me physically ill, this illustrated very nicely the pervasive creepyness of ubiquitous surveillance. And it made me very sad: It is about to happen again.

    I think you're fairly close in your analysis. Let me highlight the irony of the government trying to scare us of terrorists (``people who use fear to pursue their goals''). But let me furthermore observe that the government seems very deeply scared itself. And I think you now know why: It is about to become obsolete in its current form and cannot imagine itself any leaner.

  16. Tom Chiverton 1

    @Pogle S. Wood

    This won't create a new 'curtain'. Because what it sets out to do (monitor who talks to who) is impossible. Not just because of encryption, but because it will need to be able to understand every application protocol in the world (including, for instance, remote X11 sessions) every, for all time.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shifting the debate

    Its a sign of the times that rather than promoting innovation, encouraging adoption of leading technologies that concur competitive advantage and backing those with ideas which translated into businesses will generate wealth for the economy this administration are mired in a pointless and seemingly ceaseless debate about persecuting, investigating and prosecuting the population.

    Listening to former chief "terrorist hunter" Andy Hyman interviewed on the radio by Simon Mayo yesterday it's clear that while the authorities clearly need access to tools and techniques so they can do their job properly (ie protecting the population from violent lunatics) they themselves as citizens of this country (Hyman is now retired so see's things from the perspective of civvie street) are only too well aware of the need to find a balance that protects individual and collective freedoms.

  18. Skizz

    How to Stop IMP

    Just tell everyone it's the same as the having the government open all the letters that are posted every day and having a quick look to make sure there are no 'terrorist atrocity plans' inside or pictures of kiddies.

    Actually, it all makes sense. Get everyone using e-mail by running the Post Office into the ground and then snoop on everyone all the time.


  19. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Need to create ephemeral key, end-to-end encryption by default

    That way none of the material that can be intercepted will be readable.

    I believe that OpenSwan was planning this some time ago.

    All of my mail servers encrypt during delivery wherever possible.

    Defeat the DPI engines and then the LEAs will have to go via the courts again to gain legal access instead of just getting drunk on the contents of the pipe.

    Yes, I would prefer to risk being blown up or otherwise injured rather than have my entire life open to faceless official scrutiny.

    My vote will be contingent on this, so if I get to talk to any candidates I will certainly ask them.

  21. Dave 8


    I'll stand next to you!

  22. Andrew Culpeck

    A posative thought

    I think that we don't have to wory to much about this as it is yet another Government wet dream of an IT project which like all the rest will cost sevral times as much as initialy cost quoted, most of the money will not be unaccountable for and the end result will be useless. Well that is if they follow the useuall patten.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Tom Chiverton

    Oh, I know IMP in itself doesn't do it. It's everything else too, the whole package. The inescapable intent of it all. The end game, perhaps.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: AC@12:10

    It's worse. All current governments assume criminal until bagged and tagged, saying "trust us for we sure don't trust you". Plenty of people still believe that's fine because "they have nothing to hide". Well, no, we don't, no longer. Thanks so much you nothing-to-hiders.

    But I wasn't talking about that. I was hypothesising how to make the law palatable. And, assuming a sensible government and a sensible EU, this is what I think is reasonable. Of course, reality proves this to be high-proof fantasy. But we knew that already.

    I think you could have a score or more DVDs in your pocket. If it involves almost a week ago then there's one of those lying around here, in bluray HD.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    A law will be passed making encryption illegal for private citizens, like the US ban on exporting it or our ban on firearms for all but their shock troops.

    After all, they don't give a flying duck about our personal data, so the only private citizens using encryption will ipso facto be criminals or terrorists (sorry - it's 'Terror', isn't it. 'Purveyors of Terror'?).

  26. Anonymous Coward


    What kind of mental cripple would it take to believe that this - like Star Wars technology - would ever work either technically, or politically?

    For one thing it's blatantly obvious to anyone with half an ounce of common sense that sooner or later the list of 'banned words' (or whatever shit is being used to scan stuff) will become public knowledge and then you'll be at the mercy of the great British public and their ability to wind up authoritarian nonces by shameless attention-seeking behaviour:

    "So the wordS 'I consider myself to be a terrorist' will get me looked at, will it? Hmm, well OK then ...











    ARE YOU LOOKING YET? Good. Now I have your attention, here's a song I've been working on ..."

    Not to mention which - someone will actually have to sit down and go through this stuff to make sure only genuine leads are being followed and not people shouting that 'Me and my wife are Brian'. How the hell is that going to work, practically? I doubt the tiny little pixies who do all the running around inside computers will stand for it because, well for one thing they're a pretty militant bunch, and for another THEY DON'T FUCKING WELL EXIST!!!!!! They're just bloody machines and they don't have intelligence - sooner or later a human or humans will have to get involved and then the whole process will slow down to an administrative crawl, just like everything else in government. Bored operatives, low wages, rainy Wednesday afternoon. Do I need to say more?

    Given the level of technical ability being displayed by our elected representatives I think I'd rather be represented by a brain-damaged crack-snorting orang-utan. At least I might actually be able to understand its behaviour.

    Not to mention which our government (being the centre of the fucking universe and all) are going to scan all communications world-wide are they?

    And other world governments will stand for this because?

    "You know, if this country is full of smart people who care about freedom but are too gutless to do anything about it, I for one don't want to stay here."

    You and me both, chum. You and me both.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Imagine that somehow you managed to vote in a minority government that cares about personal liberty and didn't just waste your vote by not voting against the most evil. And imagine further than this government decided that the entire GCHQ mechanism was evil and not in the interests in the general public and that they were going to dismantle much of it in order to save on untold billions a year during times of financial crisis.

    What do you think would happen to this huge organisation with massive black budgets? Would they just give up and say, "Ok, I'll find another job, please take away all the computes and sell them" or do you think there would be some kind of coup? There would be a lot of people involved who love power and have access to huge budgets that would not want to loose it.

    Just a thought....

  28. Hayden Clark Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Real reason will be revealed when it's turned on

    The initial justification is anti-terror.

    The anti-pervert justification will then get invoked.

    In use? It will get used for what it's really for:

    1) Sniffing out dissent, organised protest and investigative journalism amongst UK citizens, and

    2) Copyright enforcement.

    with 2) being the source of the bribes for voting it in.

  29. Fred 1

    Who are the real targets

    Luckily these measures are only there to spy on terrorists and child molesters.

    As a mere domestic extremist, I am sure they will have no interest whatsoever in my communications.

  30. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    A Question to those who would run.

    Whose country is it?

    The apparently nameless civil servants who discretely brief on this, wispering the special incantations (Think of the children. There are terrorists (11 years after ther IRA shut down) everywhere) into the ears of gullible ministers and equally compliant media types.

    Or you.

    This is our country. They are *our* employees. It's time they remebered this.

    And Al, where's your ID card? Your predecessor said people were thowing themselves at her to get their hands on one.

  31. MinionZero
    Big Brother

    @The Silver Fox

    @The Silver Fox: just because you can't see how such technology would allow control *of a population* (hint, its not just directed at individual control), thats far more about your ignorance and not about the technology. (Also when you say "would ever work politically" that shows your complete ignorance of the lying two faced nature of the self centered Narcissistic control freaks who so often become politicians).

    Also when you say, "the list of 'banned words'" ... "will become public knowledge and then you'll be at the mercy of the great British public" ... Yeah for about 2 weeks max (if you are very lucky), then the vast majority of the apathetic population will simply loose interest and go back to rotting their brains watching reality TV. Meanwhile 5 years later, the government would have built up a very detailed picture of people. This is a long term game over years, not a 5 minute profiling job.

    As for the myth of a list of words, its a lot more complex than that. Data mining isn't simply keyword detection. Its context sensitive detection of patterns of words combined with prior history context which over time biases you towards pigeon hole groups. Also its a lot easier to spy on everyone when they already know its all from the same poster, which is much easier when they hook into the ISP data.

    Also the vast majority of "open source intelligence"(tm) is gained from open web sites. Encryption will not protect from that data gathering. Also political power is about herding large numbers of people (usually with lies and half truth promises and apparent good deeds hiding corrupt schemes behind their smoke screen of lies), so they don't care if a few technical people leak through their control, they would just automatically label the early encryption users as a problem group in their own right, to then watch out for them in more detail later.

    "They're just bloody machines and they don't have intelligence"

    I'll ignore your straw man rant before this sentence, and just focus on this straw man rant point that machines don't have intelligence. A machine can detect patterns in data without having any intelligence so its not about intelligence at all, its about detect patterns in data. Various forms of Machine Learning (as the whole field of research is known) uses pattern detection in known reference data to then match that with input real world data to identify how likely it is to be similar. That doesn't require any intelligence. Its simply running a program. Also one false positive here and there doesn't matter, its building up a profile over years and if you build a profile over years which (unluckly for you) falsely indicates you are a persistent trouble maker then they don't care if they harm you with fines and other punishments to hold you back. Again power is a numbers game herding millions of people so they don't care about harming a few individuals (unless they are real core trouble makers, then they go all out to harm and hold them back).

    "Not to mention which our government (being the centre of the fucking universe and all) are going to scan all communications world-wide are they?" ... "And other world governments will stand for this because?"

    They are all playing the same game. They want power over others *in their own country*. Power gives personal gain and they fear the loss of their power. Sure they also all spy on each other's country as best they can already (and have done for hundreds of years!), but now they are extending their spying onto their own country simply because its now becoming possible. More spying means more power and personal gain from having such power.

    "I think I'd rather be represented by a brain-damaged crack-snorting orang-utan. At least I might actually be able to understand its behaviour." ... oh wow, too easy ... judging from you ignorant rant, its no surprise you relate to a brain-damaged crack-snorting orang-utan! ... by the way, when you have finished crack-snorting, go back to sleep. ;)

  32. Anonymous Coward


    It comes as no surprise that they are trying to get this shite through when voter turnout is at an all time low.

    You want to stop this? - Get your ass down the voting station at the next election and make your vote.

    Anyone who "doesn't vote" can just shut the fuck up.

    Anyone who says "there is no one to vote for" is wrong, there is always someone to vote for, as long as you don't vote for the people in power, or the other parties that would do the same. In other words, vote for the fringe parties, UKIP, Greeen Party, English Democrats. Fuck, even vote BNP if you want, it might wake a few people up!

    Such voter apathy is like an early Christmas to the wankers in power.

    And spread the word, tell everyone you can to go and vote.

  33. Anonymous Coward


    > blah-de-humourless-blah ... your complete ignorance of the lying two faced nature of the self centered Narcissistic control freaks ... blah-de-humourless-blah.

    Gee really - I'd never realised that blatantly obvious point until you pointed it out. You have seen through my sarcastic vitriol. You've really touched me. No really - I feel the need to hug.

    "They are all playing the same game."

    Uh-huh and I suppose you believe in Roswell as well? Sorry fella but there is no 'they' - there's just other people. Sure they might have the ability to order other people to kill you, or watch you, but it's funny how such people always end up looking like tits in public. Other people - even powerful people - are just as stupid and ridiculous as you or I, regardless of the number of men with batons they have surrounding them. And stupid people always make mistakes.

    > "A machine can detect patterns in data without having any intelligence so its not about intelligence at all, its about detect patterns in data."

    Uh-huh: And if you put crap in you'll still get crap out. Anyone that believes analysing the entireity of the mundanity of human existence in order to find dangerous people and/or control society needs their head examining in detail. Such people have clearly not been reading their history, or have read it and decided that it would never happen again.

    See this kind of problem is most definitely about intelligence - but it's the intelligence of the people who believe this kind of shit will be of some use to them in their Blofeld-like quest for world domination. Such people have always attempted to use machines and other, more ruthless and/or more gullible human beings to do their will and they usually succeed for a while. But only ever for a while.

    "... by the way, when you have finished crack-snorting, go back to sleep. ;)"

    Seeing as you're aware of the straw-man argument I'm sure you know that "guilt-by-association" is also a logical fallacy.

    As is "missing the point" and "being humourless".

  34. Neal 5

    so what

    let them do it.

    We've already got Google spending billions to create new data centres to provide whatever prefix of bytes we're now into.

    W Gates said 64k would be enough for everyone, now we're into the high gigaBytes, some even into terabytes, all in the space of 10 or so years.

    Come the next election after this one, once realising the scale and cost of this hare-brained scheme, it will all fall back to judicial oversight, basically as we are (supposed) to be now. A warrant to interogate or search a suspect, else it just won't be feasible. We're not just talking about 1 bit of data per person, but a whole lifetimes worth, and to be fair to you/them, keeping track of at the moment 70 million populace of the UK, plus of course that will grow, plus immigration, plus cross referencing, of every single contact you make in your daily life, I'm not sure anything will happen.

    Someone will have to process the data, so maybe we will get full employment after all, eventually. We'll have Mr Patel at the new Indian call centre, managing, inspecting and upkeeping all of the daily lives of Smith, A, and his third cousins brother-in-law, will be doing the upkeep of all the Smiths, B, naturally, this will employ basically the entire third world, monitoring the UK's populace, so who's going to be doing the Americans, perhaps the Mexicans?or even the Cubans?

    Again we'll end up with s+++ end of the stick, and all indigineous British, will end up monitoring the French.

  35. kevin biswas

    *even* moral objections

    "Their reactions to the IMP consultation - some expressed publicly, some off the record - reveal a deep resistance to more regulation, added costs and even moral objections to the scheme".

    *even* moral objections ?

    even *moral* objections ?


    I feel pretty dejected that in their minds the only thing stopping them from becoming a total surveillance state is the cost. I am slightly reassured by the fact their proposals are bat-shit crazy insane and of dubious technically feasibility.

  36. MinionZero
    Big Brother

    @The Silver Fox

    "Uh-huh and I suppose you believe in Roswell as well"

    You really love pointless straw man arguments don't you. Misrepresent someone then attack them for it.

    "Sorry fella but there is no 'they' - there's just other people."

    Again trying to misrepresent me. People who seek political power can be grouped together just as people who seek any role in life can be grouped together. Often common professions show common patterns of psychology where their underlying psychology gives them a competitive advantage in their chosen career. That doesn't mean everyone in that profession is the same psychological type, it just means some have a competitive advantage and are attracted to that role. Autism in engineering is a very good example. Narcissism in jobs involving power over others is another example. But then I strongly suspect you already know all this and you are just continuing to intentionally misrepresent me. You know when I say "they", I'm refering to the people who choose to do that work.

    "Anyone that believes analysing the entireity of the mundanity of human existence in order to find dangerous people and/or control society needs their head examining in detail."

    Again another misrepresentation. Its not about the entirety of the “mundanity” of human existence in some implied storm of unstructured data. There is already considerable structure to a lot of useful data, e.g. HTML, XML etc.. Sure binary & images etc.. can't be scanned, but a lot of text can be scanned. Also if they hook into an ISP etc.. and then detect URL's as they want to do, then they will already know who is making that request via the ISP so then they just have to workout a score for what they are viewing.

    So one of the easiest ways to data mine a population is to simply assign scores for URLs that get their attention. They don't need to view every web page and every comment. If they decide a URL points at a popular article that will attract a certain kind of viewer, say for example, a political view of a certain party, then anyone viewing that page has already highlighted themselves as a potential target simply by viewing it. If you were only viewing it out of interest, tough, you are labeled along with everyone else who viewed it. Now that one label isn't so important on its own, but keep adding these effectively honey pot land mines URLs in a database highlighting points of interest all over the Internet and time after time, over a period of years, the people who are politically active will hit more political land mine site URLs than the simply curious viewer and way more than the ones who are not interested at all. So over time, (a long time, i.e. years) they can easily build up and filter out the people they want to focus their attention on. The people who view the most political material are the people they target. Same with criminals.

    One person working for a political group linked to a database of the viewing habits of the entire population could easily highlight potentially a few URLs every hour. So employ just one room full of people doing that job and you can land mine tag many thousands of URLs per year. So as soon as they highlight a URL, they retroactively set a search off through the viewing habits of everyone on the data base to then add flag scores to anyone who has viewed that newly highlighted page. Over time everyone builds up scores for the things they are interested in. Also the database can even give them lists of the most viewed pages, so they can simply assign scores based on checking the most common pages. Its not difficult at all to extract a lot of open source intelligence on an entire population and what I've described requires no complex data mining or machine learning. It can easily already be done now against the entire population. Just watching the URLs is easy to do.

    Therefore automatic detection of potential honey pot land mine URLs is simply an improvement to help them consolidate their position.

    Each new bit of data mining is then simply an ever greater consolidation to their power, e.g.

    (1) Automatic detection of text patterns in emails (which are already easy to scan) allows more flags to be added to the people sending the emails and people can get bonus profiling points based on who they send emails, especially to/from known people to watch.

    (2) Automatic detection of text patterns in blogs (which are already easy to scan) allows more flags to be added for anyone posting to that blog.

    (3) Automatic detection of text patterns in forums (which are already easy to scan) allows more flags to be added.

    (4) Automatic detection of phone calls and text messages to known people they already want to watch, so then by association the call makes you a more likely target to watch as well.

    etc... etc.. etc..

    Nothing I've described is hard to do.

    So Silver Fox, you can remain ignorant of data mining as much as you like, but it doesn't change the fact it works far better than you try to imply. You evidently don't know about this subject as much as you assume you do. Therefore its pointless me trying to describe to you how more advanced forms of data mining *already work* let alone where the research is going, because you evidently can't even see the most basic ways to profile a population.

    But then you keep showing you don't want to learn, because you are evidently too busy playing your pointless exaggerated misrepresentations games. Must really give you an ego boost to play these games, but ultimately you prove your words are meanness

  37. MinionZero

    Wrong word, right meaning ;)

    doh, when I said at the end, "meanness" it should have said meaningless ... Freudian slip ;)

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    doh, when you said "meanness" I read it as "meaningless"...which thinking of what that constitutes just scares me!

    Otherwise, nice summary!

  39. Northumbrian
    Big Brother

    Who are "they" and what do they want and who cares?

    Can I jump into this argument about "they". Normally I'm one of those who castigate the indiscriminate use of "they", to mean, "anybody who's not my mate and especially anyone who has any authority of any kind." This time, I think there may be a case for it. Firstly the article identified two lots of "them" in particular - specific branches of the police and the security services, and specifically the policy-makers in these groups.

    People that senior reckon by and large that they are not run by the government, but vice versa. They are long-term career people, who appoint others like themselves to run crucial committees and handle "briefing" ministers. Like all other collections of people they have their rogues, their incompetents, their fanatics and also their dedicated public officials - the last named are probably the most dangerous, because they think they are right. Generally one lot of like-minded people hand over to another lot when they eventually take their (very generous) pensions.

    If they did not share the common mindset - "there is no such thing as too much intelligence, it all helps us do our job, which is keeping people safe."

    The job of protecting us from the watchers is the one we give to politicians, and they are not very good at that job, as they trust the watchers a lot more than they trust the electorate.

    They are going to get their mass surveillance, because they want it badly enough to twist arms in the corridors of power, and they are very good at arm-twisting.

    The cleverest bit of this whole thing is that the Internet, as well as being ubiquitous and being easy to use for data mining, is also just strange enough for what is being done seem as though it might be reasonable.

    So, start a campaign against discrimination against e-mail users. Why should those of us who send our letters over the wires, and read our newspapers online (whilst the wretched Murdoch will let us) be treated worse than the rest of the population. I suggest therefore that:

    1) every TV set/video recorder must have a recording chip which makes a note of what programs you watch, and sends it every day to your local police headquarters.

    2) all letters must be taken to your nearest post office, and the addressee and the sender logged, and the contents photocopied. Remember terrorists can get around the e-mail ban by writing letters - this must be avoided.

    3) anyone buying a newspaper or magazine must, at the till, have their ID logged together with the barcode on the magazine, so that the security forces know who is reading what. In fact you could extend this very easily - all you have to do is have a logging sensor which picks up the details of the item being purchased, and the ID of the purchaser, then all you have to do is to dock their bank account automatically, and send the details down the wires.

    Remember the US security forces proposed in all seriousness to get the records of all purchases made with a credit or debit card, as well as of all books borrowed from libraries as part of their "total information" drive. It fell by the wayside (I think) because of cost and technical issues, but I don't think civil liberties issues came into it.

    Tell everyone that every phone call they make is going to be recorded and the police will listen to everything, and then keep it on record. Then they are going to make it easy for casual labour at the police data centres to listen in, and sell anything you say to whoever wants to hear it.

    Perhaps having the post office clerk sniggering at your love letters in front of you, nicking your Christmas gifts and chucking your snapshots in the bin might make this sort of intrusion real to people.

    I fear not. And it won't even make everyone "safer" - ask the people who remember living in the DDR if they felt "safer" for the kind attentions of the Stasi.

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