In England, your home may be your castle, but the government will soon be able to get a rather good idea of what is happening inside it.
The British government has decided to go ahead with its plans under what it calls the Intercept Modernisation Programme to force every telecommunication company and Internet service provider to keep a record of all of its customers' personal communications, showing who they have contacted, when and where, as well as the web sites they have visited, according to the London Telegraph and various other British papers.
The information gathered, the Telegraph says, will be able to be accessed by 653 public bodies, "including police, local councils, the Financial Services Authority, the ambulance service, fire authorities and even prison governors."
"They will not require the permission of a judge or a magistrate to obtain the information, but simply the authorisation of a senior police officer or the equivalent of a deputy head of department at a local authority," the Telegraph says.
The only bits of "good news", if you can call it that, is that the information won't be held on a central database because of privacy concerns (that seems a bit oxymoronic to me), and the full rollout will be delayed until the after the next election.
If the Tories or Liberal Democrats win, they say that the intercept program will be changed in scope and function. However, as happened here after the last election, once in power, promises about privacy and spying on citizens seem to become less important.
I wonder how long it will be before the British government requires a person to submit their details from Google's new Dashboard, just to double check that their web habits are being captured properly. As Google notes,
"the Dashboard summarizes data for each product that you use (when signed in to your account) and provides you direct links to control your personal settings. Today, the Dashboard covers more than 20 products and services, including Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Web History, Orkut, YouTube, Picasa, Talk, Reader, Alerts, Latitude and many more."
You can read more about it here.
The British government is also going ahead with Contact Point, a database containing the details of England's 11 million children. As described by this Telegraph story last week,
"The computerised database contains a record for each of the 11m under-18s living in England, containing their name, address, gender, date of birth and a unique identifying number... It also holds information on their parents, their nursery or school, their GP and whether they have a social worker, health visitor or probation officer assigned to them. If the young person consents, it will also give details of sexual health or drug abuse counsellors."
Interestingly, this database is assumed by the government to be secure and private; so secure and private, in fact, that the children of celebrities and certain others - e.g., the children of government officials - are to be excluded from it.
It has not passed without notice on the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall the irony of the British government dogged efforts to spy on its own people in a way that would make the Stasi envious.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown'sremarks marking the anniversary included this:
"What has happened here in Berlin tells the world that the tides of history may ebb and flow, but that across the ages history is moving towards our best hopes, not our worst fears; towards light not darkness; and towards the fulfilment of our humanity, not its denial."
So governmental spying is moving towards our best hopes, towards light not darkness, and towards the fulfilment of our humanity?
George Orwell, who once, "To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle," would probably be very depressed by the state of affairs in Britain - but probably not be very surprised.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.