Government to allow private firms to monitor every move we make. I'm moving to China.

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It will cost £12 billion, be run by private companies and track every move you make on the internet, every call, text message and every transaction. Yes, this is the UK government proposal to manage and run a communications database that will make Chinese attempts to control and monitor its citizens look like “light touch” regulation.

The only difference with one-party states like China (ok, so apart from the summary trials and executions) is that the government claims that it will not look at the content on our every electronic interaction, but merely at the points of entry. The “pings”, if you like, to use a geek term.

Of course, this is incorrect. By building up a database about our movements – our morning rituals of checking emails, visiting web sites, buying online – this will build up a pattern. This in itself is “content”. This will create a pattern of recognition about our movements. Plus how long would it be before they start to argue that they need to see the content as well? Curiously, because so few people in China – relatively speaking – are online and/or using credit cards, China will look pretty free compared to our electronically driven society.

I could write a 1,000 more words more on this subject. For now the scale of the project beggars belief. From a government which has presided over countless numbers of security breaches, including a missing CD containing every child’s name and address in the UK, it is an amazing act of hubris. Plus, it comes in the wake proposals by the Ministry of Truth (Ok, so the Department of Culture, Media and Sport) to regulate content. So now we are watched as we go online, and the content we view is to be rated and standardised. Welcome to Britain in the 21st Century.

The more salient point to note for TechCrunch readers is that the impact on British online business will be significant. At a time when one of the few areas of growth in the economy is the digital sector, the UK government wants to look over the shoulder of the consumer when they go online. Will this make them feel safer, or preyed upon? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

  • David

    Leaving aside the question of whether this is necessary for a second, I think the government has demonstrated on a number of occassions that it does not have the skills or knowledge to be able to safely manage personal data.

    They government is supposed to work for us: if they were pitching for the business of managing data on this scale (even if they are proposing to outsource it), they wouldn’t win the job based on their track record.

    There is no way we should be paying them £12bn to mess up again.

    • Jake Brumby

      Don’t leave aside the most important question – there is no need for such a database.

  • Charles Edward Frith

    The justification will be fear marketing.

    It’s propaganda and it’s very effective. Makes even reasonable people very pliant.

    We use the same technique in advertising. If you don’t by our shampoo, toothpaste, soap powder you will never be like the succesful, happy, beautiful, popular people in our ads.

    All you need is the media to keep repeating the message and eventually people feel the anxiety to believe the preposterous.

  • Andy Beard

    I am a believer that vigorous attempts to have total privacy online, such as blocking browser and flash cookies by default might have an acute negative effect on small businesses trying to gather important business data.
    Large firms can probably manage using very aggregate data collection because they have more data points.

    As for governments, I always assumed they already monitored this stuff, though they wouldn’t necessarily store it unless you were on some kind of “watch” list.

    Very “Enemy of the State” or “Eagle Eye” like, or for the older generation Big Brother / 1984, but ultimately I can see a need for the capability.

    Note in China, they determine what you are allowed to watch, I can’t see that happening in the UK other than for very obvious illegal activities such as child porn.

    A whole lot of data currently resides accross the pond, and I don’t see a UK owned search giant appearing any time soon.

  • Julian Bond

    Most people think “Law enforcement by robots is tyranny”. I think “Law enforcement by robots is Freedom”. Because it allows us to work round a predictable system. So badly maintained, highly visible speed cameras allow you to speed with impunity with just a little common sense. A fully automated congestion charge system encourages people to have cloned registration, and no tax or insurance.

    Track all my communications, and I’ll go back to routinely using PGP. While indulging in SEO to make sure 90% of my online activity is discoverable by Google.

    Yes, its a pointless waste of money, just like ID cards. But the more they rely on it, the more opportunities there will be to slip beneath the radar.

  • Brendan McLoughlin

    We do have to remember that these private businesses technically at least already have this access to their own customers data as it travels across their networks.

    What the intelligence service should do is have power to request they put a monitor on a person when they have a court order on a case by case basis. They no doubt have this power anyway but haven’t bothered establishing ISP relationships. Perhaps they can just intercept raw traffic at Layer 1 with the co-operation of NTL/BT who own most of the real cables anyway because other ISP’s normally use there networks.

    There is just no excuse for wanting to collect this amount of data. The thing that I think is most stupid is that given the encryptions available now any serious criminal will have encrypted data that is sensitive anyway so why would a massive database of encrypted data help the Gov they probably wouldn’t be able to sort it or decode it when they need it so why spend £12bn on collecting it!

    • Scott in Denver

      There would be very little useful information for law enforcement from this plan. Brendan has it right on. There are already tools for governments to follow those that they deem suspicous. Use those tools. There’s no need to spend all that money making a huge database of mostly useless info

    • Jason
  • Bill Thompson

    There’s an event in February organised by a broad consortium of groups and individuals – not all of whom I’d want to share a room with, but some situations call for the widest possible engagement. The Convention on Modern Liberty site is at

    Usual disclaimer – these are friends of mine and I’m helping them with their strategy.

  • david bailey

    My experience (and I have consulted for UK Tax, Pensions, the SFO, and Benefits) is that even when they have the data they won’t be able to use it. They will lose it, it will get stale, they will link it up using bad rules and come up with all sorts of idiotic conclusions about many thousands of individuals that will badly impact the lives of those innocently targeted by the use of this data.

    It will be expensive, take decades to deliver, not work and be hated and badly used. And that is just by our current (reasonably incompetant) government and civil service.

    Now project the current ‘rule by fear’ ahead a decade. Terrorists detonate a dirty bomb somewhere, Israel and the Arab world spiral further down the drain of hatred. Oil is nearly exhausted. Water wars have already broken out. Low level cyberwar is a fact of life as China and Russia continue to flex their muscles. NOW think of what sort of government we will have and what they will use this sort of data to do to us.

    THAT is why they cannot be allowed to have it. Not for what they will do today, but for what someone might do in the future. And, for once, the German government is right in rejecting this and anything like it.

  • Sam Machin

    Like all government attempts at technology this plan is fundamentally flawed. have stated that they will only require logging of the ‘header’ information about communications not the actual content, with today’s web where is the dividing line?

    Lets take twitter as an example,

    If the intercept is at my ISP’s level then they will record that I send an HTTP post to twitter’s servers.

    Now then that POST was me sending a Direct Message to @fred for example,
    That DM had a URL in it pointing to tinurl
    That Tiny URL resolved to a flickr url
    That flickr url was a photo of a hand written note that said:

    “Hello Fred, can you tell John that I want to meet him outside the Acme Bank at 9am tomorrow to rob the place”

    Fred then repeats the process to John.

    Well the ISP have dutifully passed along to Big Brother that I sent a 200 byte POST of data using HTTP to twitter. Now how does that help them!

    As usual this will only serve to annoy and oppress the normal population while anyone actually intent on committing a real crime will find a way through in seconds.

    NOTE: I am not a bank robber nor do I have any intention of ever becoming one, I have no idea who Fred & Jon are! all details above are for example only, please don’t ship me off to Gitmo ;-)

  • max

    Too easy to render useless for ADSL users with lots of data allowance.

    1. A browser extension that makes fake visits to websites bringing on noise data.

    2. HTTPs, IP sec, etc

    3. Proxies

    Bring it on!

  • Dominic Son

    Rally people together in opposition to this, and follow those associated with the firms doing this. Follow them around their daily lives all day and write down everything they do, including when they go to the bathroom, etc. Make it obvious they’re being observed. Then send them a report every week.

  • Giovanni de Paola

    even if it is very scary it is only a proposal. In Italy also we had very strange proposals of regulamentation about Internet…but none was approved…

  • Wayne Goode

    Let me know how that ‘blogging thing’ works out when you get to China.

  • longggshot

    Save the £12 billion just ask google for the info!

  • http://http// tom


    They have the most CCTV then anyone is the world BUT it still does not cut down on crime and this will DO NOTING for crime and terrorism.

    So much money and its not wanted by the people.

  • Government Internet Plans at Belated Blog
  • Agile Cyborg

    12 billion to apprehend 58.3 pedophiles and meaninglessly prove 12,000,000 British moms are BDSM fans.

    Britain- the paranoUK.

  • Chris C

    Great sales pitch to the Govt – getting them to fork out 12bn of taxpayers money in a recession, while the businesses whose networks they seek to infiltrate go out bust.

    When will the Govt learn to trust us – oh that’s right never, because they believe we are all as dumb and predictable as they are.

    These muppets need to stop enforcing the nanny state on us and get into fixing the things that actually need fixing.

  • Mats Henricson

    Welcome to move to Sweden! We have no such surveilance laws at all. No FRA, no IPRED, no ACTA, no whatsoever. Your internet communication is left alone day and night.

  • James C

    This is some scary shizzle.

    Just found this e-petition on this subject:

    Off to sign up…

    • Billy

      HHmmm, you are against the government having all our personel data, so you go sign a petition with your details and send it to number 10 so that they will in effect have a list of people they now know to be fully against these propersitions. if petitions worked we would not have gone to war in Iraq (remember the NOT IN MY NAME petitions that millions signed) that worked really well !!! infact they used the petitions data to help identify people to arrest at the protest march that then took place.

  • worthy

    How about to get inside the bed with me? Explore the food I cook, wth going on :s

    • Peter Johansen

      @Mats Henricson — That is great, Enjoy it, it will all change after a terrorist attack. France and Spain had the same attitude, in the name of “personal privacy” then things had to change…

  • Ian

    Yes, it is a lot of money and government employees will screw things up. But, what is the alternative? Do nothing while Muslim extremists are crawling all over Britain? This not only affects British citizens but also people living in the rest of Europe, the US and many other countries.
    I say forget the absurd political correctness and the paranoid cries of “protection” for individual “privacy” — bring it on! If it saves my family from being blown up by terrorists, it is worth every penny of it.

    • billy

      just out of curiousity how many terror attacks have taken place since 9/11 over 7 years ago, how much risk do you really believe your family to be in from a terrorist attack. you mentioned the muslim extremists all over britain (not really mate, bear in mind the size of our population it would be far less than 0.5%) and what about christian extremists dropping bombs all over the middle east what about the innocent familys and children there, we are causing more TERROR to the innocent over there than they could ever do western countries. if anyone is to be called terrorists its the people running the U.S and U.K. as for what is the alternative, pull out of there countries and leave their resources alone let them have control over there country without our interferance, stop stealing from them. maybe then they might not think us to be complete cunts,

  • Patrick

    If you are not a terrorist, you have nothing to be concerned about.

    • Rich

      Okay, I’ll bite. We’ve all heard that argument before, and it’s still just as flawed as the last time it was peddled out.

      Give authorities a new power and they use it to its fullest extent. There are plenty of examples of systematic use of the “anti-terrorism” legislation brought in since 2001 for purposes unrelated to terrorism… crowd control, detaining pensioners who heckle Labour politicians, etc.

    • Rich

      In addition there’s the fact that “terrorist” itself is a broad and subjective term… prone to mistakes… that regularly includes innocent people like Jean Charles De Menezes.

      Considering that the danger to the public from terrorism is tiny in comparison to virtually any other danger (crossing the road, lightning, stairs) I think there should be a significant burden of proof before our laws are permanently changed to ‘protect’ us from it.

  • Greg

    Scary in light of the newly proposed “big brother” systems of Australia too, what terrorist intelligence is available to make them suggest such politically unfriendly policies.

    • Marie

      Do you want “proof” of terrorism before government officials get off their asses and do something?
      Sigh! You know what? I would love to go back in time and live in a world of innocence, candy and puppies… Unfortunately, we have to sober up and face reality, The sooner, the better.

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  • TC

    Faced with possibly the most severe recession since the 30s, and generally being seeing as the weakest positioned country in the EU, surely there are more pressing things to spend £12bn on.

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