GCHQ claims an internet surveillance project is nothing sinister but simply part of its ongoing struggle to keep pace with internet communications
UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has compared its Internet monitoring plans to the work of code-breakers during the second world war, in response to criticism that it is snooping on the web
The statement from GCHQ follows media reports that the UK government is working on a system to monitor much of the country’s Internet traffic. The multi-million pound project is allegedly being developed under the working title of “Mastering the Internet (MTI)” and may have been underway since as early as 2007.
But GCHQ has denied claims about the scale of its Internet surveillance efforts and said that monitoring email, and Voice over IP telephony is simply part of its everyday role and a response to the fast-paced development of online communications.
“GCHQ is not developing technology to enable the monitoring of all internet use and phone calls in Britain, or to target everyone in the UK. Similarly, GCHQ has no ambitions, expectations or plans for a database or databases to store centrally all communications data in Britain,” the organisation stated.
Rather than being a “big brother” style operation to monitor the Internet, GCHQ was keen to propose a more patriotic comparison for its Internet surveillance plans – that of the codebreakers at Bletchley Park, immortalised in numerous books and films including most recently Enigma starring Kate Winslet.
“Just as our predecessors at Bletchley Park mastered the use of the first computers, today, partnering with industry, we need to master the use of internet technologies and skills that will enable us to keep one step ahead of the threats,” said the GCHQ statement. “This is what mastering the internet is about.”
GCHQ said that its MTI plan is simply a development of existing technology and will comply with legislation and limits on its existing powers. “The new technology that GCHQ is developing is designed to work under the existing legal framework. It is an evolution of current capability within current accountability and oversight arrangements,” the organisation said.
According to reports, the MTI project is part of the government’s ;arger Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) which at one stage involved plans for a massive database of suspect communications. The government has since backtracked on the move and is instead proposing that service providers store the data themselves.
Commenting on the apparent government u-turn over the database, Shami Chakrabarti, director of privacy group Liberty said: “We applaud the Home Office climb-down on the super Big Brother database and thank the broad coalition of sensible voices who brought it about. It is a clear signal that the public interest in personal privacy can no longer be ignored. However, if companies are to be required to hold even more information than they do at present, concerns about access and use become even more important.”
Bletchley Park, home to UK code-breakers such as Alan Turing is being preserved as a museum, but has been facing a funding crises of late. It was recently awarded around £600,000 by Milton Keynes Council and English Heritage, as well as a further £100,000 by IBM and PGP.