by Damien Gayle Daily Mail
UK spy agencies want to install ‘black box’ surveillance devices across the country’s communications networks to monitor internet use, it emerged today.
A report by an influential committee of MPs tells how spooks are keen to implement a nationwide surveillance regime aimed at logging nearly everything Britons do and say online.
The spy network will rely on a technology known as Deep Packet Inspection to log data from communications ranging from online services like Facebook and Twitter, Skype calls with family members and visits to pornographic websites.
But civil liberties and privacy campaigners have reacted with outrage, saying that the technology will give the government a greater surveillance capability than has ever been seen.
The report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, published on Tuesday, gives UK intelligence agencies’ perspective on the government’s draft Communications Data Bill, which is intended to update surveillance powers.
The government argues that swift access to communications data is critical to the fight against terrorism and other high-level crime, but it has been delayed after the Liberal Democrats dropped support for the bill.
MI5 chief Jonathan Evans told the committee: ‘Access to communications data of one sort or another is very important indeed. It’s part of the backbone of the way in which we would approach investigations.
‘I think I would be accurate in saying there are no significant investigations that we undertake across the service that don’t use communications data because of its ability to tell you the who and the when and the where of your target’s activities.’
The Bill has encountered stiff opposition, but authorities have been at pains to stress that they’re not seeking unfettered access to the content of emails or recordings of phone calls.
Instead, they claim, what they are after is what many have described as ‘outside of the envelope’ information: Who sends a message, where and how it is sent, and who receives it.
For example, while the email addresses of senders and recipients would be available to agencies, they would still need to obtain a court order for access to the contents of the emails.
A similar situation would apply in the case of mobile phone calls, with the callers’ identities and locations available to agencies, along with the time of the call and its duration, but agents restricted from listening without authorisation from the courts.