Letter to MP: The Intercept Modernisation Programme

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This letter was sent to Sir John Butterfill MP (Conservative, Bournemouth West) on 22nd April 2009.

Dear Mr Butterfill,

The content of the Government’s proposed Intercept Modernisation Programme and discussions regarding the creation of a central government database for recording internet traffic data have been brought to my attention by the Open Rights Group. I am writing to you to express my concern and to ask that, if you are in agreement with my points below, you oppose any such motions if and when they arise.

Firstly, the expense involved in maintaining such a central database would be enormous - compared to the current level of information the government holds on its citizens, the amount of internet traffic information generated by each person is vast. This information is currently gathered and stored for some time by Internet Service Providers (ISPs), but a single central database would be much more expensive to set up, maintain, and search. I’m sure in the current recession the majority of Britons could name any number of things they’d rather their tax revenue was spent on!

The second issue that concerns me is privacy. Though this kind of data is currently stored by ISPs, I do not believe civil servants have free (or even easy) access to it. The Police can have access to data on specific individuals given due cause, and I have no issues with that system. However, one central database or easy government access to existing ISP databases implies “data mining” - analysing large data sets, including data from individuals who are not suspected of any wrongdoing, in order to pick out suspicious behaviour. I do not believe that individuals who are overwhelmingly likely to be innocent ought to be routinely monitored in this way.

Furthermore, the more freely this information moves around, the more easily it can be lost or stolen or hacked into and make its way into the hands of those who could use it to steal identities, steal money or simply sell lists of e-mail addresses to spammers.

Lastly, I do not believe that there is even an advantage to these plans. I’m sure the given purpose will once again be anti-terrorism, but I do not believe the proposed plans are likely to reveal any evidence of serious terrorist activity being planned. For a fairly tech-savvy user (as we must assume terrorists who conduct operations online are) with the motivation to do so, encrypting one’s e-mail or even one’s entire internet traffic is not difficult. This degree of internet traffic monitoring will only affect those innocent people who either don’t know how to encrypt their communications, or don’t believe that they ought to have to do so just to stop their own government snooping on them.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Renton