back to article Five bods wrongly cuffed thanks to bungled comms snooping in UK

UK cops and spook agencies wrongly fingered five people as criminals after seizing data about their communications, according to a new report. The Interception of Communications Commissioner's latest dossier [PDF] gave examples of intelligence data used to seize drugs and firearms, stop illegal waste dumping and in one …

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  1. Andrew Moore
    Mushroom

    Oh dear...

    This will wind up the "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" brigade

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh dear...

        Reminds me of a BOFH episode where a droid wants help but doesnt want them to look at his hard drive, so the PFY copies the drive while the BOFH chats with the droid.

        If there should be no fear if you have done no wrong then why do the gov keep so much secret?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Oh dear...

        "No, they'll say 5 wrong arrests are a tiny price to pay for fighting terrorism, thinking of the children, etc."

        I'm always slightly concerned how much time certain groups appear to spend thinking about children.

        1. Flywheel Silver badge

          Re: Oh dear...

          "5 wrong arrests are a tiny price to pay for fighting terrorism"

          Unless of course it was 5 MPs who were arrested, then it would be VERY different?

      3. TimeMaster T
        Boffin

        Re: Oh dear...

        "No, they'll say 5 wrong arrests are a tiny price to pay for fighting terrorism, thinking of the children, etc."

        Indeed they will

        I forget who said it exactly, I think it was one of the USA's "Founding Fathers";

        Better 100 guilty men go free than 1 innocent person unjustly deprived of their Liberty.

    2. Cucumber C Face
      Holmes

      Fishing expeditions

      Prevention is NOT always better than cure - but to appreciate that you have to apply more sophisticated reasoning than an amoeba.

      The same dilemma exists for screening healthy people for diseases in medicine.

      'Screening' starts with the default assumption that the patient has heart disease, breast cancer whatever - and you then set out to prove the negative.

      There is always a false positive error rate in whatever test you apply.

      Therefore one should accept

      1. normal people are going to be misdiagnosed

      2. if the damage (and/or number) of misdiagnoses exceeds the benefits (and/or numbers) of correct diagnoses you abandon the screening program

      Harvest (say) a million internet transactions to catch the one in a million by a p@edo/terrorist/tax dodger. Say your test has the unbelievably impressive false positive rate of 0.01 percent (1:10000) and 100 percent true positive rate.

      You will 'detect' one terrorist whilst falsely accusing 100 innocent people.

      Not looking so good for the snoopers - even with highly optimistic assumptions of prevalence of bad guys and performance of the screening instrument.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Oh dear...

      "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear - from whistleblowers"

  2. dervheid

    none of the mistakes

    were "malicious or deliberate".

    How can you 'accidently' request someones texts, voicemails or emails?

    Sniff Sniff

    "I can smell shite"

    1. rh587 Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: none of the mistakes

      "were "malicious or deliberate".

      How can you 'accidently' request someones texts, voicemails or emails?"

      Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence.

      So that's all right then... Oh. Wait...

    2. Alan Edwards
      Thumb Up

      Re: none of the mistakes

      > How can you 'accidently' request someones texts, voicemails or emails?

      Easy, you put, as an example, 01234 567890 into the 'phone number' field on the online form instead of 01234 576890. You may not notice the cock-up until there's no sign of an incoming call matching an outgoing one to the number from another suspect.

      I've talked to my own voicemail several times because someone at work has a mobile number that is the same as mine except that the last two digits are reversed.

    3. Colin Miller

      Re: none of the mistakes

      >were "malicious or deliberate".

      >How can you 'accidently' request someones texts, voicemails or emails?

      >Sniff Sniff

      >"I can smell shite"

      You could request the details for your ex's new squeeze. Doing so is illegal, and is why the security services (and the police, etc) audit all requests, to check that the requester has a lawful reason to look up the information about the target.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    I had nothing to hide!

    ...but still ended up in jail.

    1. Antonymous Coward
      Childcatcher

      Re: I had nothing to hide!

      It was for your own good.

      1. VinceH

        Re: I had nothing to hide!

        Yes, think of the terrorist's children!

    2. Crisp
      Coat

      Re: I had nothing to hide!

      The refrain of flashers everywhere!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not about the truth

    It's about being seen to be seeking the truth.

    1. Don Jefe
      Unhappy

      Re: It's not about the truth

      Most western law enforcement tossed 'seeking the truth' out the window a long time ago. What they seek now is the easiest conviction they can get. Therefore they need access to as much information as possible to string together any case they can conjure up.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's not about the truth

        Look hard enough and everyone is guilty of something. Guilt comes in many forms, only some break the law.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: It's not about the truth

          > everyone is guilty of something.

          Even if it's only being Irish.

          Although presumably the police's job is easier now you just have to prove they have sufficiently good enough tans that they might be muslim

    2. Black Rat
      Big Brother

      Re: It's not about the truth

      Ay there's the rub, for if we are all behaving ourselves then they are out of a job. To quote JB DiGriz "a little crime is good for the economy "

  5. smudge
    Black Helicopters

    It's the numbers that amaze

    570,135 requests to snoop. Over a 12-month period, that's over 1,550 each and every day. Assuming that each request is properly qualified, prepared, reviewed and approved, then the amount of effort required to process them is enormous. But that's a big assumption.

    Note also that it's not just cops and spooks who have the powers to request communications data. Other public bodies including local authorties can do it.

    Intercept warrants - 3,372 is over 9 a day. They have to be signed off by a Secretary of State. Properly reviewed and questioned before Secretarial sign-off? Yeah, right.

    BTW, there really is a helicopter above me as I type this. They surely couldn't react so quic

    1. Antonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      Re: It's the numbers that amaze

      The new adaptive badthink prediction algorithm analyses all your previous communication to extrapolate what you're abo

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: It's the numbers that amaze

        I'm sure this was just a slip of a finger. Oh, here's the finger, told ya! Anyone for a spare f

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's the numbers that amaze

      "Assuming that each request is properly qualified, prepared, reviewed and approved [....]"

      An assumption of the same order of magnitude as hearing hoof beats and assuming unicorns.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's the numbers that amaze

      As the old crazy said, I will not be filed, stamped, briefed, debriefed or numbered!

    4. Mephistro
      Happy

      Re: It's the numbers that amaze

      Why so many interrupted posts in this thread?. It's as if someone was about to write some big eye opener on the subject and then something hap

    5. streaky
      Facepalm

      Re: It's the numbers that amaze

      It is an extremely concerning figure. It's a pretty massive proportion of the country (more than are ever in their lives likely to be accused much less convicted of any sort of crime - the current prison population for the entire country is less than 100k).

      At best it's a disproportionate response to whatever issue we're trying to solve, and it appears we're trying to solve issues that shouldn't be solved with communications data.

    6. Bernard M. Orwell
      Black Helicopters

      Re: It's the numbers that amaze

      Or, if you prefer, that's about 1 search for every 14/15 UK citizens in a single year....

  6. knarf

    Fishing Again

    Looks like we are been fished for crimes, on come back 1984 when we have to phone and text to snoop with.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Any state action that deprives a citizen of their liberty without cause should be investigated with swift and ruthless efficiency.

    When it is proven the actions were unwarranted, or evidence is willingly tampered with, the police, lawyers and judge involved should be bunged up in jail for the same period of time.

    Only when their own butts are on the line, and responsibility for their actions is enforced, will things will get better.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Any state action that deprives a citizen of their liberty without cause should be investigated with swift and ruthless efficiency.

      By whom?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Who rules?

        "Any state action that deprives a citizen of their liberty without cause should be investigated with swift and ruthless efficiency.

        "By whom?"

        Ideally, by the citizens. In a well-run society, they ought to have all the information they need to do so - and the powers as well. "Democracy" means that the people have the ultimate power - and that should not mean imaginary symbolic power, as represented by the right to choose, every four or five years, between two bunches of crooks to run their country.

        "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty". - Thomas Jefferson

        Which do you think is the case in the nation where *you* live?

  8. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    Is there no-one writing the legislation for these things

    that understands the difference between 'here is the suspect's numberplate - can we see it on ANPRS?' and 'let's store every ANPRS event in the case that we might want to look later' or 'is this suspect sending emails to other suspects' and 'let's store every email just in case'?

    And understands that while the public might accept the first of each case they may well have a reasonable and reasoned objection to the second in each case?

    Nothing to fear, nothing to hide, my arse. It's nothing to do with that and any implication that it is is smoke and mirrors. When the powers that be put every email, every web page they access, and 24-hour video of their lives online, I *might* believe that they actually think that motto...

    1. lglethal Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Is there no-one writing the legislation for these things

      Whilst I can understand the police's desire to be able to back track a suspects movement (i.e. we only be came aware that X was planning to bomb that church today, where did he get the bombs from, lets check the data and see where he was previously), I dont agree with it, and I dont believe that Joe Public would actually accept their every movement being tracked, catalogued and assesed, if they were honestly aware of the level of intrusion going on.

      Then again I might be giving too much credit to Joe Public, having seen the level of education in some areas of the UK, I doubt they can even spell Surveillance State let alone think about how it affects them...

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon
        Mushroom

        Re: Is there no-one writing the legislation for these things

        I have one really good reason why I don't want everything I do to be tracked, and it isn't because I have something to hide, neither is it that I have something to fear.

        I simply don't TRUST the fuckers.

      2. hplasm
        Big Brother

        Re: @lglethal

        I doubt they can spell 'Brazil', which is ironic really.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Gimp

      Re: Is there no-one writing the legislation for these things

      "that understands the difference between 'here is the suspect's numberplate - can we see it on ANPRS?' and 'let's store every ANPRS event in the case that we might want to look later' or 'is this suspect sending emails to other suspects' and 'let's store every email just in case'?"

      Apparently not.

      In fact I'm not clear what "law" the UK ANPRS system operates under beyond the true motivation of all data fetishts "Because we can."

    3. streaky
      FAIL

      Re: Is there no-one writing the legislation for these things

      It's called RIPA section 1 and it's pretty explicit.

      The issue is the relevant law is not being enforced or overseen as it's supposed to be. The government of the day and the last government seem and seemed to be happy with GCHQ et al telling them what a fantastic job they are doing. Read the report - it's a pretty shocking indictment of the current ICC regime.

  9. HereWeGoAgain

    500,000 plus demands for info

    Which could easily expand to millions of contacts. Hmmm. Fishing, not investigation.

  10. Loyal Commenter Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Not malicious, just incompetent.

    So that's alright then.

  11. PJI

    It used to be the principal that ...

    Better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent be punished.

    Those were the days.

  12. plrndl

    Anti-Terrorism?

    "Anti-terrorist" actions by the government have done far more to deprive us of our freedoms than any enemy has ever achieved.

    1. Don Jefe
      Unhappy

      Re: Anti-Terrorism?

      Yes. Everytime a freedom is removed in the interest of safety 'the terrorists' probably throw a party as their low budget war is proving to be highly effective. Having the populace cowering in fear never accomplished anything positive.

      1. BrownishMonstr Bronze badge

        Re: Anti-Terrorism?

        Why don't the Gov jus' say that they want to outlaw feelings and artistic expression like in Equilibrium?.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    what about me?!

    Would it be possible to see if any requests have been made about me?

    ....

    Why, dear sir, since you ask such a pointed question, while we can't tell you nuthin, we can say one thing, and make of it what you will: You will have been the subject of such a request, by the time you get back home!

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. Arctic fox
    Headmaster

    RE:"UK cops and spook agencies wrongly fingered five people.........."

    Security authorities have been making this kind of fuck-up since Walsingham* was Elizabeth the First's "M". Are we really surprised? They do it again and again and use the same excuses each time. "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs". In other words we are told that we have to except this particularly nasty example of "friendly fire" and if we do not accept this then their reply is "what is your problem, something to hide have we?"

    *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Walsingham

  15. Miek
    Big Brother

    Well, at least those 5 bods didn't get shot in the face like Charles de Menezes.

    Big Brother is watching you, or at least it thinks it's you they are watching!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Of course he was shot in the face. He might have been holding a detonator.

      We must act swiftly and decisively to protect you from the terrorist and paedophile onslaught.

      If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear."

        Menezes hadn't, and he did. (Although he didn't have long to fear).

  16. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    Do they thinks we've forgotten Prism and Tempora?

    Why would they go through legal loopholes when all the information is there for them on tap?

    (I temped to use the 'black helicopter' icon, but ny browser refused! Hmmmm!)

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "How can you 'accidently' request someones texts, voicemails or emails?"

    Easy you request information on Harry Buttle instead of Harry Tuttle

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mistakes are inevitable

    "In another error, police were sent to an address where they wrongly believed a child had threatened to harm him or herself."

    I have personally dealt with something similar. A user in a chat room became concerned that another user was attempting suicide. They contacted their local police in Australia. The Australian police tracked down the IP (this will have involved a third party) and traced it to the UK. They then contacted Scotland Yard with the information.

    Scotland Yard contacted the ISP with the information. The ISP called me at 3:00am to get the details of who had that IP at that time. For security reasons, account information is not accessible remotely so I had to drive in, track it down through the logs and them associate it with an account. The details were then passed on to Scotland Yard who no doubt passed it onto the local police force.

    Information was exchanged at many points and passed through many hands. Any transcription or lookup error could have easily resulted in the police knocking on the wrong door. It is hardly surprising they get a couple wrong.

    Bootnote: Did the user attempt or even succeed with the suicide? I have no idea but the first thing I did was ping the address and got this response:

    x.x.x.x is alive.

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge
      Coffee/keyboard

      Re: Mistakes are inevitable

      Bootnote: Did the user attempt or even succeed with the suicide? I have no idea but the first thing I did was ping the address and got this response:

      x.x.x.x is alive.

      Just when I thought it was safe to drink my coffee.

  19. Versace
    Big Brother

    Data collected from Google, Vodafone et al helps track down tax evasion. Ooh, the irony...

  20. David 45

    Oh dear to the nth degree

    "This will wind up the "if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear" brigade" says Andrew Moore. Does that mean that he's for or against data snooping? Sounds from the "wind up" part as if he's not worried if HIS data is slurped and distinctly scornful of those who may protest, so I assume he's in favour. I reckon if HE was in the dock, wrongfully accused due to plod's blundering, the story would be a little different. Snooping and lack of privacy has got way beyond a joke.

  21. kain preacher

    Eehh

    What's a few innocents in the meat grinder. I'm sure they were guilty of some think, Yes this is sarcasm.

    Think of the kids = BS argument or the person saying it should be put on pedo watch.

  22. Dan Paul
    Devil

    There is no "Terrorism" except that which our Government creates in your mind

    The Terrorists have finally won when the Government makes the populace afraid to live their lives.

    Yes, there are acts of murder & mayhem but terrorism is really in the mind and the goverment WANTS us to be afraid so they can control us even more than they do now.

    I remember an old SF short story from Asimov or Astounding where people became so afraid of plague and terrorism that they never left home, had all supplies delivered by the tube, lived in sealed houses, conducted life over some form of video etc.

    I think the bastards may eventually cause this to happen if they scare people enough.

    The fact is that NOTHING or NO ONE can protect you 100% of the time.

  23. Lord-a-miytee

    "Intercept product"???

    Is nobody else disturbed that the concept of evidence has been expressed in the language of commerce and marketing? It's the most telling sign I've noticed of the recent movement towards 'commoditising' justice and liberty.

    1. mhoulden
      Alert

      Re: "Intercept product"???

      "Don't fight it son. Confess quickly! If you hold out too long you could jeopardize your credit rating. "

      Using another marketing term, if we assume 5 nines reliability, that still means a 0.001% error rate. Some will be innocent people being falsely accused while others will be guilty people being let off. Even if the reliability rate remains the same, the more data is collected, the more mistakes will be made. However the reliability rate seems to be tending more to 9 fives instead as more and more people are required to handle and process oodles of useless information about innocent people just going about their daily business. Quite apart from the civil liberties issues, this is a massive waste of time and money that could be spent on something more useful.

  24. JaitcH
    Unhappy

    Not a problem ... or very expensive

    Given that the UK doesn't compensate innocent people incarcerated for years, these 'errors' won't cost much.

    At one time, when I was young, parents would say if you need help - find a Plod. Scotland Yard was actually respected - now, just another bunch of bag men.

    These days Plod ARE the problem - crooks in uniform.

    If the system is so good, why weren't the crooked Plod caught selling information. Why? Because it was, and is, ineffective.

  25. wtpayne

    How many political activists and journalists are there in the UK? How long to get dirt on all of them at this rate?

  26. boatsman

    this anti-terrorism is a new form of terrorism. but now from your own government

    nuff said

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