back to article UK Home Office spy powers unit pretended it was a private citizen in Ofcom consultation

The UK Home Office's Investigatory Powers Unit (HOIPU) anonymously responded to an Ofcom consultation urging the regulator to maintain a "security"-related ban on GSM devices that help people get cheap calls abroad. The HOIPU sent its anonymous response, written as if it came from a private citizen and not a government …

  1. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Get what you wish for

    Seems it's about time Matthew Dine became a private citizen rather than a civil servant.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Get what you wish for

      about time Matthew Dine became a private citizen

      Why? Seems like he was doing only what he was paid to do.

      Unfortunately, the problem is that here is not the author's actions, but the clear implication of the government (a) lobbying itself and (b) pretending to be a private individual. That is a a wilful abuse of the "democratic" consultation process.

      I'm regularly involved in enough consultations (not on this sort of matter) to know that the democratic credentials of the policy consultation process are very, very weak, but this latest is particularly egregious act. The people who should be shown the door are the boss of HOIPU and the Home Secretary, and ideally Theresa May, who appears to be a passionate supporter of the establishment of a British Stasi.

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Get what you wish for

        Why? Seems like he was doing only what he was paid to do.

        So, he was only obeying orders? Just how much misbehaviour should that excuse?

        I agree that whoever came up with this idea and whoever gave it the green light also need to go.

        1. Phil W

          Re: Get what you wish for

          "So, he was only obeying orders? Just how much misbehaviour should that excuse?"

          Pretty much anything that isn't illegal really, which I don't think this was? If it was he should be prosecuted, along with whoever told him to do it, but as far as I know it's not a criminal offence for a government employee to do this.

          There probably should be some sort of internal HOIPU/government policy against it if there isn't already. But even if there is, was this guy aware of it? If he was and he was specifically told to do it anyway surely he didn't have a great deal of choice?

          We're not talking war criminals who murdered civilians because they were ordered to here, it's not even a HOIPU employee being asked to take morally questionable investigative action against a citizen without a warrant. It's a guy being asked to send a letter by his boss which is frankly not the sort of thing to quit your job and endanger your future employment prospects for.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Get what you wish for

            "Pretty much anything that isn't illegal really, which I don't think this was?"

            It could be fraud by misrepresentation at worst or misuse of government resources if he's claiming he acted as a private individual not representing his employer. Either way, I find it very difficult to believe it was an official representation "accidentally" appearing to come from a private individual. Anyone who's had dealing with government departments will know that all official emails or printed letters always have a proper header on them. You cannot possibly mistake them for private correspondence. Someone is telling lies and dressing them up as "mistakes" or "errors of judgement".

      2. MGJ

        Re: Get what you wish for

        I cannot imagine the circumstances in which this would be allowed under the Civil Service Code.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Get what you wish for

          I cannot imagine the circumstances in which this would be allowed under the Civil Service Code.

          "And thirdly, the Civil Service Code is more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules".

          Which is just as well, because it doesn't seem to be challenging the conscience of any civil servants in the Cheltenham branch.

      3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Gimp

        "and ideally Theresa May,.. a passionate supporter of the establishment of a British Stasi. "

        Just like the previous 8 Home Secretaries after they've had their usual brainwashing "orientation briefing"

        He's very curious how on other topics (EG prison reform) fomer Home Secs can actually soften when in office.

        But never about this subject.

        I wonder if anyone has done follow up questing after they no longer in the job and exposed to daily BS dire security briefings and start to think that (maybe) some of them were a bit barking mad over dramatic

      4. Adam 1

        Re: Get what you wish for

        > the clear implication of the government (a) lobbying itself and (b) pretending to be a private individual.

        I have no problems with (a). It is a good thing™ for governments to extoll their positions on any matter and to force them to justify the positions they are advocating. My problem is with (b). And I have a big problem with it. It has the optics of an attempt to present a case for change or not without the usual skepticism applied to a normal government mouth piece.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Facepalm

      Re: Get what you wish for

      Sort of ironic that someone disguised their identity to complain about a technology which would allow people to disguise their identities.

      1. Adam 1

        Re: Get what you wish for

        > Sort of ironic that someone disguised their identity to complain about a technology which would allow people to disguise their identities.

        IT'S LIKE RAAAAIIIINNN....

      2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Re: Get what you wish for

        "Sort of ironic that someone disguised their identity to complain about a technology which would allow people to disguise their identities."

        Even more ironic that it was detected by timstamp coincidence, which also happens to be the way early versions of anonymisers like Tor were attacked by the spooks (compare ingoing and outgoing traffic until linkages are apparent).

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Get what you wish for

        s/ironic/hypocritical/

        FTFY

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What is the advantage using a GSM gateway rather than a SIP gateway. Surely SIP is cheaper than GSM?

    1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      You may not have a SIP exit route to the country in question

      There is a number of countries out there which have a combination of all of:

      1. Ridiculous landline termination rate

      2. Ban on VOIP in all shapes and forms including filters on their version of the "Great Firewall Of X" as well as sending in "cops" to beat up VOIP operators for good measure before jailing them.

      3. Somewhat reasonable roaming rates for their own customers which are less than the ridiculously extortionate international landline termination rate.

      The countries in question are mostly in the Middle East, Subsaharan Africa (hence the terrorist angle) as well as a few last holdouts of Cobbly and Wobbly monopoly on islands in the lesser Antilles.

      1. Phil W

        Re: You may not have a SIP exit route to the country in question

        Not sure what any of your points 1-3 have to do with this?

        The GSM gateway will generally be based in the country you're calling from not the country you're trying to call, if it weren't then there wouldn't really be a great deal of cost benefit to the caller in using one in the first place.

        "You may not have a SIP exit route to the country in question" is a valid point, but then what you really need is a multimodal gateway which has SIP/GSM outgoing connections and uses whichever is cheapset/most appropriate for the destination country.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: You may not have a SIP exit route to the country in question

          The GSM gateway will generally be based in the country you're calling from

          So they will be ROAMING on the local network (f.e. Vodafone in the UK) using SIMs issued by let's say Ethiopia telecom and caling Ethiopia using their roaming tariff.

          So whoever is running the rig will be pocketing the difference between the (relatively) low roaming tariff and the insanely extortionate (in the >5$ per minute range) landline termination fee.

          The other possible is to use SIMs of one of the MVNOs which have procured on an exclusive arrangements for lower cost minutes to the desired destination and resell it to people who do not want to juggle 3-4 different SIMs just to get their calls in.

          In either case, both are just small "pushers" for very small niche markets. They do not even show up on the radar of large SPs. I do not see what the whole hubbub is about.

  3. JimmyPage
    Facepalm

    And we're supposed to trust these muppets ?

    as title ...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Trust

    is a two way thing.

    Are you fucking listening Theresa.

    As you erode our freedoms and continue to prove you (and your cronies) are not to be trusted, be aware that eventually the tide will turn.

    1. theModge

      Re: Trust

      Are you fucking listening Theresa.

      Nah, it'll be some king of dated attempt at machine learning on her behalf, almost certainly procured at so many times the market rate you're forced to assume, inaccurately, that it might be good. Afore mentioned buggy piece of software will accidentally be protecting us all from governmental prying by picking up so many false positives that no bugger has time to read them. Assuming that is they follow standard government procurement procedure.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Trust

      Testify.

      But, as long as terrorism and noncing can be whipped up as 'new evils' to be feared, the masses will continue to vote for, and even applaud the police state into which we may be falling. Sooner or later, it'll be too late to do anything to stop it.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Trust Police State?

        Hah - dont be silly - it will be G4S with a lot of shredders.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Trust

        Most dont want a police state and many are not applauding it.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Unhappy

      Re: Trust

      To answer your question--no, Theresa is not fucking listening. She's looking pretty fat and happy because Labour (or at least the Labour MPs and most of their working class voters) has split over Brexit.

      And assuming Labour digs itself out of its hole then given its own record on digital spying and signing on to any policy that oozes out of the Home Office, you will be back here in 3 years asking "Are you fucking listening, Jeremy?"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Trust

        Exactly. No difference between the two groups of whores except minor window dressing.

      2. Red Bren
        Facepalm

        Re: Trust

        "Labour (or at least the Labour MPs and most of their working class voters) has split over Brexit."

        Labour is split over it's leader. The majority of Labour MPs want a Blairite* messiah to cozy up to Murdoch and be business friendly enough to ensure they get a seat on the corporate gravy train. The members have (twice) voted for a leader who shares their ideals. But Corbyn can't generate appeal with the wider electorate as he is constantly undermined by his own back-benchers, who would rather remain in opposition than allow a left-of-centre Prime Minister threaten their corporate sponsors.

        * An insult so offensive it can get you expelled from the party!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Trust

          Corbyn's problem is that he is deluded as to his actual support. He feels like he is representing all the people, because of his massive mandate given by Labour members and the huge increase in party membership that he brought about. Unfortunately, he hasn't realised all he has done is attract all of the left, and has completely abandoned the middle; he has less popular support than even Ed Miliband had.

          If there was an election yesterday, I would definitely have voted for John Smith's Labour, perhaps for Blair's Labour; even a chance of Brown's Labour. Corbyn/McDonnell? Give me a break.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Trust

            >>perhaps for Blair's Labour

            You might just vote Tory as opposed to Tory Light *cough* sorry New Labour :P

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Trust

              You might just vote Tory as opposed to Tory Light *cough* sorry New Labour :P

              Well, no, you're missing the nuances. I vote for centre right (UK spectrum, US would be either "left" or "socialist"). I can vote for Blair's "Tory light" no problem, I can vote for LibDem (haha). At the moment my options are just "vote Tory", and I don't want to be voting for such a right wing government.

              The centre is being abandoned as Tories and Labour lurch right and left...

              1. Red Bren
                Mushroom

                Re: Trust

                "The centre is being abandoned as Tories and Labour lurch right and left..."

                The Tories have been lurching to the right since Thatcher, with Blair's New Labour following them. Instead of a spectrum of political options, we're given a choice between two variations of the same neo-liberal ideology, with what was once the "centre ground" sneeringly labelled "left wing". And into the vaccuum steps a charismatic orator with a handy scapegoat...

              2. PNGuinn
                Megaphone

                Re: Trust

                Oh c'mon - nobody could describe the current Tory lot as right wing. It just shows how far to the extreme left most of uk politics has moved.

                Just listen to Corbin's baltherings and try to parse them. And those of his acolytes.

                Remember that the Tories have had a "far left" of their own since at least the 1950's. The risk of an internal civil war with an election approaching when Supermac woke up one day and found he couldn't pee (prostate problem), thought he was more seriously ill than it turned out and resigned as leader led directly to the choice of the compromise candidate Alec Douglas Hume - and let that idiot Wilson into power.

                One wrecked economy later, in desperation the sheeple voted Tory and put Fred Teeth in - and he was another of the wets and took us into yurrup.

                Totally lost his bottle after calling a "who governs Britain" election over a miners' strike and put labour back. Another wrecked economy. Believe me - I spent almost every evening out on the streets that cold february. And until the last couple of days or so of the campaign the Tories were romping home with a landslide. Until the great leader showed his green underbelly. The electorate voted him out.

                It took Thatcher to bring some leadership to the party and win a decent majority. Her biggest error was to fail to deal with the Heseltinies and their ilk before the splits and divisions they caused destroyed her.

                Ultimately they gave us fascist Blair, Prudence the innumerate, and another economic disaster we haven't yet fully recovered from.

                With no clear leadership the Tories floundered like a barrel of dead fish. In the end, when Labour ought to have been reduced to less than 50 seats the best the Tories could do was a coalition with the liberals.

                And here we are now. Theresa - I KNOW WHAT BLOODY BREXIT MEANS - I VOTED FOR IT. I'd dearly like to know what YOU think it means. Woman - I DON'T TRUST YOU. Please prove me wrong.

                Cue the downvotes ...

                1. richard mullens

                  Re: Trust

                  Downvoted for talking crap. Heath was honourable. Pity that he lost and later that ghastly Thatcher took the Government to the right.

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "The Home Office has ... suggested that its anonymity was a mere admin error."

    I suppose if you're in the habit of being surreptitious it's an easy error to make.

    It looks more like the actual error was getting caught.

  6. Zippy's Sausage Factory
    FAIL

    If the "submit anonymously" is a single checkbox, and it's ticked by default, then yes, it could be a simple administrative error. In which case Mr Dine could well be handed a P45 for incompetence.

    On the other hand, it may be a deliberate attempt to deceive. In which case Mr Dine will probably get handed a P45 for being careless enough to get caught.

    I think this may be what used to be known at Sun Microsystems as a "career-limiting move"

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And now the comment has changed again ...

    Now an Individual with the name Home Office has sent a comment on the Civil Service's Home Office letterhead, saying much the same thing. Date & time in the properties is Created: 2017-03-06 12:51:53.

    Now the puzzling thing is that the official closing date for the consultation was 10 February 2017. So whether it was Mr Matthew Dine's submission on 16 Feb, or his anonymising it on 22 Feb, or the "official" version on 06 March, all of them are after the official closing date.

    Methinks that the Home Office has really been caught out and is in need of a trouser change!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Misfeasance in public office

    "Generally, a civil defendant will be liable for misfeasance if the defendant owed a duty of care toward the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty of care by improperly performing a legal act, and the improper performance resulted in harm to the plaintiff."

  9. artbristol

    It's only metadata we're interested in, not content

    The irony.

    1. Kane Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: It's only metadata we're interested in, not content

      "The irony."

      Can't upvote this enough.

  10. Magani
    Happy

    Brilliant!

    The legal method of banning them was to require them to be licensed and then not issue any licences.

    That is certainly worthy of Sir Humphrey.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Brilliant!

      Spot on. Although it should be challengeable in law if the licence terms are so onerous that no one is able to comply with them. A good barrister should be able to argue that one, possibly using the unfair terms bit of contract law.

  11. nijam Silver badge

    > Mobile operators at home and abroad see COMUGs as devices operated by unscrupulous scammers determined to diddle them out of revenue

    Users at home and abroad see mobile operators as unscrupulous scammers determined to diddle them out with overpriced calls.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A problem with all democracies. the system does not answer to citizens

    The "interference" with such democratic processes has been key in the failure of Democracy in the West.

    All Western Democracies have such avenues of expression from citizens carefully controlled to ensure outcomes are suitable to those that buy and control our political citizens.

    Similar misrepresentation is common in Canada. Every committee I've been involved or am familiar with has participants and presenters who misrepresent their interest or funding. Government agents and other employees are active often under the claim that the government has a responsibility to support and get passed it's will and legislation because after all they are the government.

    The other most obvious such undermining of democracy by misrepresentation has been expose in Canada's environmental movement, who gets funding from foreign entities, and just happens to take positions that benefit foreign governments and industries over Canadian interests. This funding has involved cash transfers to those with "extra" political power and special standing on committees.

    But like this story whenever such information manages to make it out of the many systems designed to keep it quiet it is presented as a "one off", an isolated incident. Certainly not part of a pattern that have been key to enabling governments to ignore the wishes and directions of the citizens, even those who make considerable effort to be heard through the systems designed for that communication.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Home Office has no business submitting an anonymous submission for OFCOM to publish online and more especially trying to pretend it is a telco or private individual. To add insult to injury, Mr Dine is talking through his hat. He clearly has such limited knowledge of how telecoms and GSM Gateways work that one is forced to wonder what on earth he would have written if he had set out deliberately to deceive OFCOM and the public? Where does the Civil service find these people and does it not have any management endowed with common sense and probity?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does the Home Office Live in This World?

    The Home Office seems to live in a world of make believe. The statement it put out on this matter is another classic example of how it would like things to be whilst ignoring how they actually are.

    The fact is they started by getting OFCOM to just remove the “properties” from their anonymous submission and then days later made public the attribution to them when they realised they had been caught out.

    At least Sir Humphrey was reasonably competent, but this present Home Office lot don't know what they are doing as their submission to OFCOM was just inaccurate nonsense and they are too arrogant to admit they got it wrong from beginning to end. In fact it is worse than that because what they are trying to do in suppressing GSM Gateways is actually well outside the law.

    If Matthew Dine is so junior then why was he put in charge of something they wrongly consider to be important?

    Is the Home Office really this stupid or is there a conspiracy of some kind going on here?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Home Office agenda

    A basic lesson in 'dot to dot' problem solving may assist, as they seem clueless on the IT elements of metadata and the true operation of COMUGS.

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