For years GCHQ and its Echelon partners have used a number of back-door methods to monitor not just the Internet sites people visit, but also their online chats, email, voice mail, SMS, blogs, social media postings, etc. Now the UK Government is moving one step further in its determination to revive a version of the Communications Data Bill (or ‘Snoopers Charter’) which it failed to incorporate into legislation in 2013. This week the Government will announce to Parliament that it intends that all ISPs (Internet Service Providers) will be compelled by law under the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP) to provide details to the police (and, therefore, to the security services) of their subscribers, as well details of which internet sites they visit by whatever device they use – computer, tablet, smart phone.
The aspect about this new measure that politicians are keen to avoid publicising is that in order for ISPs to be able to quickly deal with requests for data from the police and security services they will have to ensure that data is readily and easily available – i.e. data on all its customers (and the web pages they visit).
Gradually more measures are being introduced as part of the determination by government and the security services to ensure surveillance becomes total. The Government succeeds in each of these calibrations because it, with the support of the tabloids, knows how to exploit the understandable though sometimes irrational fear of terrorism, as well as the nightmare of predatory child sexual abuse.
Civil libertarians maintain that the Government and its arms could adopt a more targeted approach in pursuit of terrorists or paedophiles, but for political reasons choose otherwise. The consequence of this new and similar measures, however, will see a population sleepwalking into, arguable, a much greater nightmare: a Surveillance Max that becomes the acceptable norm.
See also a Channel 4 News report on British Telecom/GCHQ co-operation on mass surveillance that has been going on for years and a German report on similar co-operation between GCHQ and Vodafone.