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 …

  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.

  21. OllyL

    Not read, but not forgotten either?

    I note they highlighted that not everything is seen by human eyes. I do wonder if it's ever deleted though (such that if in future someone becomes 'politically interesting' their past can be dredged through to see if there is any 'leverage' to be had)

  22. b166er

    'primarily in order to uncover threats'

    Evidence that they have found ANY?

    Weapons of mass surveillance

  23. Someone Else Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Of course...why didn't I think of that?

    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.

    Also, In other news...

    We're not at war with Eurasia, we're at war with Eastasia, We've always been at war with Eastasia.

    War is Peace

    Ignorance is Bliss

    That last one is the most important...

    Clearly, the members of your "parliamentary committee" are graduates of the Antonin Scalia Governmental School of Semantic and Logical Dissonance. Fuckwits!

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    GCHQ is not collecting or reading everyone’s emails

    I believe you.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ain't so bad

    Do people really think their email is being read? Let's take a conservative estimate of 40M active email accounts in the country. You could put 10 thousand spooks in a huge room and they'd still each have to read 4000 people's email every day. The idea just doesn't make any sense at all. More likely, the only way to get the 0.0001% of emails you want is to catch everything and then discard the majority long before it reaches anything human. Not so different to real policing - coppers walk around with their eyes open whether a crime is in progress or not.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ain't so bad

      Sorry,

      It is different. Coppers don't walk around watching everybody and everything with a nearly infallible, digital storage medium and memory which they can then use to:

      1) Correlate patterns (who you see, who you speak to, what you read, where you shop, what you buy, what you write in emails, facebook, sms etc).

      2) Drag that information up years later to build a case against you.

      3) Perhaps modify the data to build up a case against you, once everyone has accepted 2).

      4) Give that data to anyone with enough clout or money who can then use it against you.

      It's hard to imagine we might all one day be living in a police state with no civil rights (some think we do already) where this nightmare becomes reality. But unbridled. unregulated information gathering and control is the first step towards that nightmare.

      We must never let that happen.

      Don't forget that once a power base gets in that doesn't like you, they can access all that data and those tools. Imagine what a Stalin or Hitler would have done with that kind of power. Look what they managed to do without it. Then tell me you still feel comfortable with that possibility.

      These "elected" idiots who think we need more bulk/mass collection/surveillance need to be shown the door. They are not fit to be running a democratic state. These are evil people who either do not understand the consequences of their decisions or don't care. Vote them out, now, before it is too late.

      1. Vic

        Re: Ain't so bad

        Vote them out, now, before it is too late.

        How?

        Vic.

    2. Emperor Zarg

      Re: Ain't so bad

      The problem is that, in order to make it palatable, they have built the apparatus of mass surveillance, under the guise of counter-terrorism. However, other than mere hearsay, no proof has been provided that such apparatus has prevented a single terrorist incident.

      Therefore, the logical conclusions we might draw are:

      1 - The apparatus is ineffective and a waste of taxpayer's money

      2 - The primary function of the apparatus is not the prevention of terrorism

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Ain't so bad

        In the 70s and 80s we didn't have email or interception and we had the IRA, RAF, ETA, Bader Meinhoff, Black September, FLQ

        Now that we have email and interception we don't have any of those - simple proof that the policy works.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    GSHQ don't tap many cables

    Just the few entering/leaving the country and the 2 LINX LANS should cover it.

  27. JRBobDobbs

    Does this apply to everyone?

    Am I allowed to intercept and collect other people's communications as long as I don't read them / look at them?

  28. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Revolutionary Thoughts from Sensible Questions

    Is it intelligent of Security and Secret Intelligence Services to allow and assist politicians and Parliamentarians in the scam of running the country and phorming future policies which fail expensively?

    Methinks such is a folly for fools to follow and useless tools to maintain and sustain.

    What say y’all?

    [NB … let it be known that there be no padlockable red North Face bags here.]

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Revolutionary Thoughts from Sensible Questions

      It may be folly but it keeps the Security and Secret Intelligence Services gainfully employed and also keeps their bosses in power. However, in the timescale of civilizations, it's a drop in the bucket and they too shall pass into the pages of history. What will come after is a different question that many will not be prepared for the answer. I believe "this won't end well" is a good answer.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Revolutionary Thoughts from Sensible Questions

        It also encourages ordinary people to think about security, web sites to use HTTPS by default, to be careful of giving any information to, or cooperating with, the police - so in all it's a good thing ;-)

        1. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

          Re: Revolutionary Thoughts from Sensible Questions

          @YAAC; "It also encourages ordinary people to think..."

          ...about the possible consequences of saying this or that, to censor themselves, and to generally conform and toe the "party line". The holy grail of a totalitarian state.

          "It's a good thing," you say?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Revolutionary Thoughts from Sensible Questions

        Pass into the pages of history? Methinks not. Not even a footnote for the lot, let alone any individual. That's merely their conceit talking.

  29. Neil Alexander

    There's an awful lot of "The government think this!" and not very much of "The people of this country think this!"

    If the government bothered to ask our opinion every while, they might be surprised at how few of us want this kind of "protection".

    1. Roj Blake

      In fairness they do ask for our opinion every five years or so. The question they ask is "do you want Authoritarian Party A to decide how you're going to be spied on, or do you want Authoritarian Party B to decide how you're going to be spied on?"

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What ass clowns...

    If you can't figure out the difference between monitoring crim com traffic and mass surveillance, you should not be commenting because you're ignorant and clueless.

    1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      Re: What ass clowns...

      WELL SAID, anon!

      However, the thing is, it's the government not us that don't seem to know the difference, and as they aren't here commenting, I'm puzzled about who you could be referring to.

  31. All names Taken
    Alien

    C'mon peeps - give em a brake?

    Is Hansard mass surveillance of MPs activities?

    Or is it just bulk interception of what they spake in t'ouse while in formal capacity?

    (this isn't going as I thought it would - the point I am trying to make is that bulk interception is not mass surveillance but it does have potential to be both surveillance and bulk surveillance and targetted surveillance (did I tell you I can't count?))

  32. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Happy

    Wot. 100 psts in and *nothing* from our favorite apologist for mass interception?

    Someone on the naughty step again?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wot. 100 psts in and *nothing* from our favorite apologist for mass interception?

      It's a puzzle isn't it? He even posted a thoroughly reasonable and useful comment the other day which got nothing but up-votes.

      Maybe he's become a born again something or other.

  33. Roj Blake

    Not Blanket Surveillance

    It's more like a duvet.

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Damage limitation

    The thing that wrankles with me the most is, we would not even be having this discussion if Edward Snowden had not exposed their dirty laundry.

    It would be business as usual for GCHQ and the public would be none the wiser AT ALL.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "This may require the Agencies to sift through 'haystack' sources......."

    The statements on Page 25 give the game away. ISTM that 'haystack' sources can not be effectively searched for 'needles' unless he entire 'haystack' is collected and examained. If you ignore any part of the 'haystack' you run the risk of missing all the 'needles'.

    Is this initial 'sifting' not effectively mass surveillance?

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