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Government plans to track emails and websites visited – my take

The fuss in the media today regarding the government’s plan to make Internet Service Providers capture personal communications data is nothing new. It was brought up under the last Labour government as the “Intercept Modernisation Programme” and received heavy criticism from the Tory party in opposition.

Now with the responsibility of government the conservatives seem to have seen things differently and the word is that the forthcoming Queen’s speech will contain measures to enable the collection of personal information that includes who you have telephoned and emailed or have received emails from and which websites you have visited. The details of what is being sent in the emails isn’t being asked for at this time.

Apart from the obvious privacy issues surrounding all this it is likely that some of the reasons that the original proposals under Labour were not seen through were the cost and practicalities of the matter.

Whilst communications providers store phone call details for billing purposes this is very much not the case with email or web access. The cost is prohibitive and there has been hitherto no reason to do so. What is being considered is doable but probably not without significant up front engineering costs involving much network redesign. Moreover once up and running this facility would be expensive to maintain.

We could ask ourselves “what price avoiding another 9/11?” which is clearly the genuine question being asked by the security services.

The problem is that it is too easy to avoid detection on the internet. Proxy services provide anonymity for web users – Google “free proxy server” and you will find 33million results.  Encouraging internet users to use anonymising services could be counter productive for other government initiatives. For example encouraging a culture of anonymity online means such people could not be targeted for Copyright Infringing activities under the Digital Economy Act (ie music downloading) and we would be making it easier for people to go undetected when doing genuinely bad things such as accessing illegal child abuse material. Proxy servers are also often the source of malware!

Whilst on the subject of Google, gmail users could not be tracked and nor would any other webmail service. These services are typically based overseas presenting additional legal access problems for retrieval of information.

Then of course there are social networking platforms – Facebook, twitter, Google+ et al could all be used but don’t seem to be in the mix for this legislation. If they were added in they would present further huge complexity to the task. Another one: ever thought about leaving messages in a Google Document for others to pick up, or maybe using Dropbox?

The reality is that it is nigh on impossible to stop people communicating using the internet without being discovered and attempting to develop a system that will do this is not only likely to be wasted money but will be a step towards entering a category of nation currently occupied by the likes of China and Iran.

Trefor Davies

By Trefor Davies

Liver of life, father of four, CTO of, writer, poet,

3 replies on “Government plans to track emails and websites visited – my take”

Yet again – our government show us how to “rule by fear”.

Nick Pickles, director or the campaign group Big Brother Watch, condemned the proposals, comparing them to surveillance in China and Iran:
“[This is an] unprecedented attack on privacy online and it is far from clear this will actually improve public safety, while adding significant costs to internet business. No amount of scare-mongering can hide the fact that this policy is being condemned by MPs in all political parties.”

As usual the government lamely claims this is all in the interest of our safety and well-being, whereas in actual fact they continue to deconstruct our rights and freedoms. Besides which, they already have law in place to monitor persons of interest, on an individual basis, under exisiting Ministerial & Judicial controls. However, the new powers would not only be far more invasive, will be applied to everyone, and will also no longer require oversight.

After all, if this is just about security during the Olympics, then where is the sunshine clause? Plus the new law would not be passed in time for the games so this is all balderdash.

IMHO governments absolutely loathe the freedoms that the internet gifts the individual. The Arab Springs have definintely shown the power of these new mediums and meanwhile the mainstream news channels continue to lose audience numbers. The public is losing it’s appetite for much of the guff trailed by the mainstream media ( and governments are petrified by the power displayed in Egypt, Libya etc.

Why would one trust the government with our personal information anyway? Not only do they consistently lose what is supposed to be private data, but they also share this information, largely without your knowledge, with foreign powers. Even your travel plans within the EU are shared! (

As a recent Telegraph article shows, private information is already widely shared inter-departmentally with govt agencies and NBO’S, and without your express permission.

Our freedoms are consistently under attack via encroaching state regulation and we must remain vigilant to fight for rights that we have blithley hithertoo enjoyed. Otherwise an Orwellian future may loom large and monstrous in the very near future. We could even turn into the US! (“Stellar Wind” NSA project in the USA .

We need to use a very long spoon when considering alliances with a country that allows indefinite detention without trial (NDAA), has crimilised protesting (Trespass Bill), and where their FBI Director cannot refute whether or not the US President can legally murder his own citizens on home soil! (

Is this really the sort of UK you want?

There is an active e-petition you can sign should you wish to express your opposition to this proposal and it can be found here:

Thanks Tref. Power to the People – Tooting People’s Front!

“It was terribly dangerous to let your thoughts wander when you were in any public place or within range of a telescreen. The smallest thing could give you away. A nervous tic, an unconscious look of anxiety, a habit of muttering to yourself–anything that carried with it the suggestion of abnormality, of having something to hide. In any case, to wear an improper expression on your face…; was itself a punishable offense. There was even a word for it in Newspeak: facecrime…”

And presumably the bad guys are already taking some precautions to disguise their actions – using some of the means you mention plus others more complex. Most of the people who aren’t hiding their online presence have nothing to hide. So aside from the civil liberties issues, there is the very practical matter that monitoring the good guys is unlikely to catch many bad guys.

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