back to article Here's the little-known legal loophole that permitted mass surveillance in the UK

This article explains the extent to which the national security agencies have been collecting bulk communications data using powers which are being exercised in a way that were never subject to Parliamentary scrutiny. Such data collection is neither subject to the relevant code of practice covering communications data nor to …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The commercial interests of any person

    That's a total loophole in itself. What do we pay MPs for? Obviously not reading Bills carefully.

    1. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: The commercial interests of any person

      What do we pay MPs for? Obviously not reading Bills carefully.

      Unfortunately, to properly read a bill, the MP would have to pull themselves out of their aide / one of the bars for long enough to study it. As it stands, the primary focus is nothing more than "Is this bill one of ours or one of theirs?", regardless of who is on which bench. We are truly led by donkeys.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Happy

    What the what?

    "This was the “Pet” computer; 2KB of memory and a printer. It retailed at 499 guineas and gave rise to the hastily introduced “word processor exemption”; a guinea was 21 shillings for the benefit of the younger readers"

    Bloody old codgers, clinging onto obsolete currencies over a decade after it was phased out.

    1. Daniel Hall
      Flame

      Re: What the what?

      but....

      what the hell is 21 shillings.

      Why dont you just say, it would have cost £xxx amount on todays prices or based on inflation or something more reader friendly.

      1. tim 13
        Facepalm

        Re: What the what?

        I think it was a joke

        21 shillings is £1.05

        1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

          Re: What the what?

          Or 63 groats, 10.5 florins, 4.2 crowns.

      2. Ken 16 Silver badge
        Holmes

        Don't you wager, sir?

        Or drink a wee Heavy of a winter evening?

      3. davemcwish

        Re: What the what?

        @Daniel Hall

        "but.... what the hell is 21 shillings."

        252 pennies

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What the what?

          "252 pennies"

          .. or 1,008 farthings.

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Re: What the what?

            63 groats.

            1. Soap Distant

              Re: What the what?

              168 Three Ha'pence or 4032 Quarter Farthings...

              SD

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: What the what?

      ...and the base level PET came with 4KB of RAM. Or is it some non-Commodore PET computer I'm being confused by?

      (since the author is delving into minutiae...)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Networking

    1984. At that time, computers were not networked in any significant way, except in research labs, perhaps via Arpanet, etc.

    That might have been true in 1974, but there was no shortage of computer networking by the 1980s. Granted that TCP/IP was was less common in the commercial world, such connections were usually done over X.25 networks and dedicated lines, but to claim that it wasn't significant is to misrepresent the situation.

    1. Stuart 22

      Re: Networking

      Yep - The Commordore Pet was 1977. Any geek who didn't have an acoustic coupler (or had nicked a modem from work) with one or a Trash-80 or the (even different then) Apple II wasn't worth knowing. OK networking was mostly chat on BBS but shoving documents around on BT Gold was pretty common by '84 as was email generally in the high tech trade.

      Nope, the Acts were partly as a result of the earlier developments rather than being reversed engineered into it. Or did the writer sleep through a decade? Not too difficult after the rather more exciting substance enhancing sixties ;-)

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In Chester, a person is permitted to shoot a Welshman with a bow and arrow, as long as he is inside the city walls after midnight.

    An example of just because it's legal doesn't mean you should do it.

    1. Geoff Campbell
      Boffin

      Nah

      No such law exists, or has ever existed. It's a myth, based on some 15th century legislation around curfews.

      http://chester.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Shoot_the_Welsh

      GJC

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Nah

        "No such law exists, or has ever existed."

        True, it's Hereford, not Chester. Or so I'm told.

        1. Geoff Campbell

          Re: Nah

          Hereford doesn't seem any more likely than Chester, I have to say, but I really CBA to research every city in England.

          GJC

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Nah

            ...and I always though it was York who allowed the killing of Scots within the city walls if the carried a drawn sword.

            Loads of these old "laws" around, most of which either never existed or have been wildly warped in the re-telling down the ages.

            1. msknight Silver badge
              Joke

              Re: Nah

              So, if you're a Scot male in York who's been out on the razz, don't even think of trying to relieve yourself in public. Someone will probably try and take advantage of the loose definitions.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Nah

                "[...] don't even think of trying to relieve yourself in public"

                It would be safer to put it into your girlfriend's sheath.

      2. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Re: Nah

        Indeed, now... A Scotsmens with cross bow inside the city walls of York is a different matter (though sadly now recently repealed).

        1. A Twig

          Re: Nah

          Bow and arrow I'm afraid, and yes, repealed in 2012 - from that bastion of reliable journalism:

          http://metro.co.uk/2012/04/04/scottish-archery-fans-can-relax-in-york-as-archaic-laws-face-axe-375726/

    2. This post has been deleted by a moderator

  5. BobChip
    Holmes

    The rule of Unintended Consequences - yet again

    The Civil Servants who draft legislation in the first place are primarily lawyers, and very few have any sort of scientific or technical training. And to be fair, they are no better than the rest of us at foreseeing the future. Add to this the volume of legislation that MPs have to deliberate on (Look up what is in place and coming through on http://www.legislation.gov.uk), and you will quickly see that an MP who did nothing but read draft legislation, full time, could only cover about 10% of it. They do have other things to do.

    So the MPs rely on the advice of Ministers, who of course have an agenda when introducing new legislation. "Yes Minister" paints a disturbingly accurate picture. I don't know what the answer is, but my advice is to try to read what is relevant, and watch your backs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The rule of Unintended Consequences - yet again

      "you will quickly see that an MP who did nothing but read draft legislation, full time, could only cover about 10% of it. They do have other things to do."

      You do realise that MPs have expenses that allow them to employ support staff? I don't see where it says that a group of MPs with, say, an interest in civil liberties couldn't employ an expert to scan Bills for potential implications. Years ago I belonged to an industry body who employed people to do precisely that in respect of industrial policy; if our elected representatives won't step up to the wicket then the only scrutiny is by lobbyists and commercial bodies and, as Hitchens put it last week, you end up with the best government hedge funds can buy.

      The biggest threat to democracy, in fact, is the leadership of the political parties who try to neuter their own MPs, and it is clear why they all hate Corbyn who has just drawn attention to this fact.

      1. johnnybee

        Re: The rule of Unintended Consequences - yet again

        So between the 650 of them, the drafts should be pretty well scrutinised, if they're all doing their job...

      2. DanceMan

        Re: The biggest threat to democracy

        "The biggest threat to democracy, in fact, is the leadership of the political parties who try to neuter their own MPs"

        Steven Harper, ex elected dictator of Canada

    2. Red Bren

      Re: The rule of Unintended Consequences - yet again

      "The Civil Servants who draft legislation in the first place are primarily lawyers, and to be fair, they are far better than the rest of us at foreseeing a future that includes jobs-for-life for lawyers unpicking poorly drafted legislation."

      FTFY

    3. DaveDaveDave

      Re: The rule of Unintended Consequences - yet again

      Unintended consequences? Only if you believe the author's flat-out lies about the intent of the legislation. In fact it was intended to do precisely what it is used for, and is right there in the preamble to the Act.

  6. Alan Sharkey

    Far too late to worry

    So, we have been spied upon since 1984. That's over 20 years of data that "they" have about us. So, even if we do "win" and get better control, I think the horse bolted long ago

    Alan

    1. Paul Shirley

      Re: Far too late to worry

      We've been *lawfully* spied on since 1984. It may or not have been lawful before that but it's guaranteed it was happening anyway.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Far too late to worry

        "We've been *lawfully* spied on since 1984."

        No, it's been going on much longer than that. Wireless Telegraphy Act et al, dating back much further. Also worth noting that the 1984 Bill didn't affect the vast majority of people since the only spying on Joe Public remained pretty much the same as always, which number called which number by phone. Few people had computers at home and even fewer ever went online with them.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Far too late to worry

      " That's over 20 years of data that "they" have about us."

      1984 was nearly 30 years ago.

      However the ability to collect, aggregate, and analyse such data in bulk was difficult for most of that time. It was only after about 2000 that Wireshark on a PC started to outperform the specialist network analysers. The latter were still dependent on filters to limit the amount of traffic they had to store and analyse.

      I remember attending a seminar where a manufacturer unveiled their new, and very expensive network monitor. It only had enough memory to capture no more than a few seconds of traffic from one link - at a speed that wouldn't even suffice for home broadband these days. The salesman's solution was "You have to learn to use the filters". My reply was that if I knew what filters were relevant to the particular case - then I would already know what the problem was.

      By about 2010 the network traffic at node points in a company network was again outstripping the available monitors' ability to capture it without connection filtering.

      About that time I looked at the big brute arrays that were coming available to do mass collection. It still raised the question of how much computing power was going to be needed to analyse and correlate all the TCP-IP connections to keep up with the collection volumes.

      It is probably still a race between network link data collection and the growth in networked traffic over multiple delivery paths. The monitoring is probably losing.

      The place to capture data is at the firewall where an abstract can be obtained that is already defined by its higher protocol layers. No doubt firewalls would need to be much bigger beasts to handle even that.

      1. D@v3

        Re: ...nearly 30 years ago

        I hate to break it to you, but 1984 is _more_ than 30 years ago (31 if we are being picky) (which is technically more than 20)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: ...nearly 30 years ago

          "(31 if we are being picky)"

          Quite correct - time files when you are past 50 and 1984 seems like only yesterday.

          1. Chemist

            Re: ...nearly 30 years ago

            " past 50 and 1984 seems like only yesterday."

            I'm rapidly approaching 65 but I think yesterday was Sunday !

      2. DaveDaveDave

        Re: Far too late to worry

        You've correctly identified the difference between being able to monitor anything and being able to monitor everything. Which is why most of the uninformed shouting is so dumb.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      WTF?

      Re: Far too late to worry

      Echelon any coincidence? Hmmm....

  7. Tony S

    This shows why it is necessary for people to be aware of what is being put into legislation; and to keep questioning what TPTB are doing "on our behalf".

  8. tiggity Silver badge

    Deliberately vague / loop hole filled

    Bill wording in these areas is deliberately full of ambiguities so that it can be exploited. Look at the new one May is pushing, lots of wooly phrases, nothing much is properly defined.

  9. boltar Silver badge

    Seems to me...

    ... that this site is rapidly assuming the mantle of the online sibling of The Guardian, what with the endless hysterical wailing and knashing of teeth about GCHQ and that "They" might be spying on us.

    FFS - do you think covert surveillance didn't happen before computers were invented? Get a clue. Phone taps have happened since the phone was invented and mail interception has happened for centuries. Computers simply make data collection easier, they haven't changed the ideologies behind them. If you're truly paranoid about "The Man" reading all your data then ecrypt it, use PGP for email and Tor for web browsing. However given the willingness of Millenials to put their entire lives online for public view I doubt GCHQ really need to work that hard to find out almost everything about anyone under 25 in this country right now.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Seems to me...

      "However given the willingness of Millenials to put their entire lives online for public view I doubt GCHQ really need to work that hard to find out almost everything about anyone under 25 in this country right now."

      I suspect we have reached the point where those *without* a twatface account will be "persons of interest" to the security service/Police etc. in the same way TV Licensing continually harass those without TV Licence.

    2. strum Silver badge

      Re: Seems to me...

      >Phone taps have happened since the phone was invented

      ...and required a warrant.

      It's the legal scrutiny that makes the difference.

      1. boltar Silver badge

        Re: Seems to me...

        "...and required a warrant."

        And so will this. In theory. But then in theory they needed a warrant for your phone records.

  10. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    @boltar

    You are aware that the issue is not individual surveillance, but bulk surveillance without any oversight ?

    Nobody is complaining about warrants and normal police work. What people are against is the global hoovering of everything under pseudo-terrorist protection excuses.

    1. boltar Silver badge

      Re: @boltar

      "You are aware that the issue is not individual surveillance, but bulk surveillance without any oversight ?

      Nobody is complaining about warrants and normal police work. What people are against is the global hoovering of everything under pseudo-terrorist protection excuses."

      You mean like the "hoovering up" of every number you've called at exactly what time that every single phone company has done for decades which you then get on your statement? It might be for a different reason but the result is exactly the same - the police can see who you've called, when and for how long. Ditto the web if this goes through. I really don't see the issue. They'll STILL need a warrant to view it unless you think that nicety will be bypassed now, in which case they've probably done that for the last 50 years wrt to phones too.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @boltar

        " I really don't see the issue."

        The issue is that your internet records, even in abstract form, will reveal just about every facet of your life. Your social/financial/religious/sexual interests, connections, political leanings, health issues etc will be open to analysis.

        That is not the collated information you want in the hands of anyone who is unscrupulous or just plain careless.

        For the time being we assume the latter to be hackers or "bad apples" with access to the data either legally or illegally.

        Any democratic government must also be wary of making provisions which a later government can use to persecute sections of the population.

        At the risk of invoking Godwins Law the perfect example is the "Enabling Act" created by the democratic parliament of the Weimar Republic. It was a precautionary measure for use if situations like the left/right faction street fighting escalated into a major instability threatening democratic government. Its provisions were used to cope with some outbreaks of that nature - increasingly between 1930 and 1933.

        The measures could only be invoked by the Chancellor of Germany - giving him the power to override parliament and rule by decree.

        In 1933 by a series of political tactical mistakes Hitler was given the office of Chancellor. He then invoked the powers of the Enabling Act to rule by decree as a matter of course - and the rest is history.

        Part of his regime's persecution of sections of the populace was made easier by trawling records about individuals that had been collected by previous governments' departments for benign reasons.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Article_48_%28Weimar_Constitution%29

        1. boltar Silver badge

          Re: @boltar

          "The issue is that your internet records, even in abstract form, will reveal just about every facet of your life. Your social/financial/religious/sexual interests, connections, political leanings, health issues etc will be open to analysis."

          Speak for yourself pal.

          1. Afernie
            FAIL

            Re: @boltar

            "The issue is that your internet records, even in abstract form, will reveal just about every facet of your life. Your social/financial/religious/sexual interests, connections, political leanings, health issues etc will be open to analysis."

            "Speak for yourself pal."

            Ah, an exciting new variation on the "Nothing to hide, nothing to fear" dimwittery. How novel of you.

      2. Afernie

        Re: @boltar

        "I really don't see the issue."

        We're only a couple of weeks on from the TalkTalk affair and you're not even slightly concerned by bulk collection of personal data at an ISP? Given it took a handful of teenagers to hack them, the Chinese must be rubbing their hands together with anticipation. Ask the folks who were affected by the OPM hack how thrilled they are that every single aspect of their personal lives is compromised, see what they reckon.

        "They'll STILL need a warrant to view it unless you think that nicety will be bypassed now, in which case they've probably done that for the last 50 years wrt to phones too."

        Have you actually read the Investigatory Powers Draft Bill? I've skimmed it, and a few points stand out. The text very deliberately turns the Judge into a human rubber stamp. He won't be making reviews based on evidence, but on whether or not a flowchart was followed - to the extent that it's hard to imagine a request ever being turned down.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @boltar

          Have you actually read the Investigatory Powers Draft Bill? I've skimmed it, and a few points stand out. The text very deliberately turns the Judge into a human rubber stamp. He won't be making reviews based on evidence, but on whether or not a flowchart was followed - to the extent that it's hard to imagine a request ever being turned down.

          Gee, I wonder wherever they learned to do it that way?

  11. Fazal Majid

    Distrust in the security services

    Is not caused by the tortured legal rationalizations they employ, but by their history of plotting against democratically elected governments.

  12. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Well, I got a reply from my MP

    But it doesn't really reassure me - all the usual platitudes: metadata not data, children/terrorists/criminals, and no mention of website observation or security. Hmm.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So basically we have no external privacy from these criminal vermin thugs because of the effective tyranny of a socialist demo(n)cracy, with it's inherent corruption of tax collecting (extortion, theft and fraud) and benefit giving (bribery and money laundering), and unrestrained, lawless 'divine right' politicians and 'civil servants'!

    I wonder how long until people get fed up with government and form a cooperative and competitive non-socialist anarchy.

    In the mean time I'll just continue with my security upgrade process and minimise use of social (no real privacy) media as much as possible.

    1. GW7
      Big Brother

      Anarchy in the UK - its just a song

      Something should be done to rein in these excessive powers. But attempting to achieve this by organising any sort of civil protest, let alone an anarchist overthrow would, "thanks" to mass-surveillance, soon be brought to the attention of the authorities. The major players would be rounded up and face the penalty of law.

      People change their behaviour when they know they are being watched. Its in the interest of the state to maintain this state of fear such that no one dares to even think about changing things. Be scared of terrorists! Pah! Many more people lose their lives prematurely through smoking, pollution or traffic accidents, which seems to scare almost nobody. But terrorism provides a license for governments to do as they please, as long as a few shocking incidents a year keep happening and some of the perpetrators are brought publicly to justice. Democracy could fix this (Corbyn?), but its unlikely to happen while everyone's happy to placate Big Brother with a life of cat videos, sport and updating their twatface.

      Not posted anonymously because unfortunately there's no such thing AND I want the Big Brother icon. On no, I can almost hear the jackboots in the street...

      1. DaveDaveDave

        Re: Anarchy in the UK - its just a song

        " Democracy could fix this (Corbyn?)"

        I really don't think this country's leading crypto-Nazi is going to want to decrease surveillance of the public.

    2. DaveDaveDave

      "a cooperative and competitive non-socialist anarchy"

      Oxymoron. Those terms are mutually exclusive.

  14. DaveDaveDave

    Complete tripe

    I see the Snowdonites get ever more desperate in their attempts to pretend he released any novel information. Of course, anyone with any interest in the subject knew all this already, so all the author has done is to demonstrate that he'd never given it a moment's thought until recently.

    As must be completely obvious, the law was not made in secret. It's been publicly referred to over the years as the justification for various government actions.

    Whatever happened to the Reg having journalistic integrity and cherishing old-fashioned ethics? This is undisclosed advertorial, and the Hawker is lying to drum up business.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      Re: Complete tripe

      "Snowdonites"

      Picking on welsh people isn't helpful.

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