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UK Government Pushes Hard (Again) to Become Big Brother

The government wants details of everyone's phone calls and Internet use stored for a year and monitored in real-time

3 min read
UK Government Pushes Hard (Again) to Become Big Brother

In February, the London Telegraph published a story about how the UK government (once again) wanted the ability to obtain "details of every phone call and text message, email traffic and web sites visited online." The information, to be stored by telecom companies and Internet service providers for one year, would not contain the contents of the phone calls, emails, text messages, etc., but would contain the telephone numbers and email addresses of the senders and receivers. The justification was that UK security services needed the information to combat terrorism.

When the story came out, there was the usual flurry of condemnation on invasion of privacy grounds, but there wasn't much of a general uproar. Personally, I think few people expected the government to actually follow through with the scheme, given that previous attempts to monitor phone calls and Internet use had proven to be both expensive and a major vote loser. But it seems like the UK government has perennial desires to emulate Orwell's Big Brother persona.

This week, again according to the Telegraph, the UK government surprised everyone by announcing an even more radical scheme. It wants Internet companies to install hardware that will allow the security services to monitor all phone and Internet traffic in real-time. Again, call and Internet content wouldn't be accessible (at least not without a warrant).

A government spokesperson stated that:

"It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public. We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes."

The current Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government was immediately called hypocritical since this proposal basically mirrors that of the previous Labour government. At the time, both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats criticized the invasion of an individual's privacy. Even a former head of the MI5 accused the UK government of pushing the country towards a police state.

Trefor Davies, the founder and chairman of the UK ISP Timico,  wrote in yesterday's Telegraph that the proposed surveillance plan was "expensive, impractical, totalitarian." Davies noted that there were a myriad of ways around the proposed monitoring, and that Internet and phone customers are not going to be happy paying for the additional cost of this surveillance. The government estimates that it will cost at least £200 million a year, although that is likely an underestimate.

A backlash against the proposal seems to be growing rapidly (including inside the Liberal Democrat party), and it will be interesting to see whether this government will back-off before it generates lasting voter anger. It is already fighting hard against a recent scandal which portrays it as the party of the rich and powerful; the surveillance proposals only serve to amplify that portrayal.

Maybe the UK government should learn to be patient, follow the CIA's lead and just wait until citizens "spy on themselves"—a time that appears to be fast approaching.

Update (05 April 2012):

A Risk Factor reader (thanks, Anders) let me know that there is already an EU-directive in place requiring EU telecom operators to save traffic data for 60 days. Sweden, he says, did not comply with the directive and was brought to the EU court for not doing so. Its parliament was forced as a result to put the directive into law.

The UK Coalition government seems to be softening its position on imposing the new surveillance requirements by saying that its proposal will receive a full public review. Whether this means it will back-off completely is yet to be seen, but there is probably a good chance that it won't be implemented at least this year.

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The Cellular Industry’s Clash Over the Movement to Remake Networks

The wireless industry is divided on Open RAN’s goal to make network components interoperable

13 min read
Photo: George Frey/AFP/Getty Images
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We've all been told that 5G wireless is going to deliver amazing capabilities and services. But it won't come cheap. When all is said and done, 5G will cost almost US $1 trillion to deploy over the next half decade. That enormous expense will be borne mostly by network operators, companies like AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, and dozens more around the world that provide cellular service to their customers. Facing such an immense cost, these operators asked a very reasonable question: How can we make this cheaper and more flexible?

Their answer: Make it possible to mix and match network components from different companies, with the goal of fostering more competition and driving down prices. At the same time, they sparked a schism within the industry over how wireless networks should be built. Their opponents—and sometimes begrudging partners—are the handful of telecom-equipment vendors capable of providing the hardware the network operators have been buying and deploying for years.

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