Government’s red-herring email law

The government (UK) launched a red herring at the Internet today, and the news media has lapped it up. “We’re brining in a new law to allow security services to monitor email and other Internet traffic.” This is actually referring to the fact of the communication; not its content.

The TV news has subsequently been filled with earnest spokespersons from civil liberties groups decrying the worst Big Bother laws since New Labour got the boot – anything to get their silly mugs in front of a camera. Great news drama – the Conservatives moving over to the dark side.

Wake up people! What they’re proposing is just not possible. Blair already tried it in a fanfare of announcements and publicity, but anyone who knows anything about how email and the Internet function can tell you that it’s not even technically possible on so many levels.

1) Email does not necessarily use an ISP’s mail server or web mail service. Home users probably do; any company or organisation will most likely use their own. If anyone wanted to avoid snooping, they would too.

2) Users of commercial mail services are anonymous if they want to be. With a few minutes effort it’s possible to hide your IP address, or use an untraceable random one, and there’s no other trail leading back to an individual. The international criminals being targeted will know the tricks, for sure.

3) The security services already have the powers to do this, and do use them.

4) If the ISP is outside the UK, then what?

When the Blair government announced something similar I had to write to the government department concerned asking for the details. I heard about it from the general news. Apparently I, as an ISP, needed to keep records for a year – but records of what, exactly? They didn’t contact me to warn me it was happening; they can’t as there is no register of ISPs. There’s no definition of what counts as an ISP either. And needless to say, the government department concerned didn’t write back with the details.

So why is the current government making this announcement about an announcement now? Could they be wanting to change the news agenda? As usual they can rely on the media types to completely miss the fact it’s nonsense. Eventually the BBC got Andrew Mars on to comment, but I suspect his interview snippet was severely edited to suit their agenda.

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