Government Data Spy Plans Flawed Say Experts

enigma07:22 Tuesday 23rd April 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: Is Big Brother watching us? Government plans to monitor people’s internet usage have been branded naive and technically dangerous by a group of academics, including three from Cambridge. The ten computer experts say Prime Minister Cameron should abandon the Draft Communications Data Bill. Whitehall wants to make internet service providers and mobile operators log much more data about what we are doing online, or on our phones, so that information could be kept for up to a year. Steven Murdoch is a researcher at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. Morning.
STEVEN MURDOCH: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: What’s the problem with this?
STEVEN MURDOCH: I think there’s a lot of problems with the Draft Bill, and these have been identified by the Parliamentary Committee which was set up to investigate it. They said it was over-reaching in terms of the powers asked for. The benefits were not justified. And it would be too expensive.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. Ok. But have we got anything to worry about? If the Government keeps a bit more of our data, should we be worried, if we’re not doing anything wrong?
STEVEN MURDOCH: Well I think most of the time most people don’t need that much privacy, although it’s probably (not) good for your state of well being if you know that someone is going to be spying on you. But some of the times it’s extremely important, for example someone who is an abusive relationship and wants to find a safe place. If everything that we’re doing is being spied upon, then if that information leaks out, as it probably will, then they could put people at risk.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. The government argue that this kind of data could actually help police investigations. Surely that’s a good thing, isn’t it?
STEVEN MURDOCH: There is certainly a need for access to communications data by the police, but by and large they already have this power. But they don’t have the training and the skills to adequately process this. And this Bill would be an expensive distraction from the real problem, which is training law enforcement to use the powers and the data that they already have available.
PAUL STAINTON: Do you think that the Government is going to listen to you?
STEVEN MURDOCH: Well I think the Government has listened to the Committee, the Committee’s report, and they’ve taken aboard some of the suggestions. But we won’t know how much they’re actually going to pay attention until we see the revised draft. But so far the signs are not too good, because they haven’t consulted as widely as the Committee has asked them too.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. Ok. So in a nutshell then, what would you like them to do right now? Scrap the Bill completely?
STEVEN MURDOCH: I think the Draft Bill is too far away from something credible to be used as a basis. I think it’s probably best to scrap the Bill and then re-look at the problem of communications data and how best to handle it. And I think the end result should be not so much new legislation, but increased funding for training law enforcement on how to use the existing capabilities that they have better.
PAUL STAINTON: Steven, thank you for that. Steven Murdoch, researcher for the Security Group at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory.