MPs: GCHQ Snooping Law Makers Are Tech Idiots

Conservative and Lib Dem MPs bash other politicians’ knowledge over the tech aspects of proposed controversial surveillance laws

Politicians involved in drawing together controversial GCHQ snooping laws lack the technical knowledge to understand what they are proposing, according to MP David Davis.

The former shadow home secretary and Conservative MP, who has been a vocal opponent of the proposed law, said the proposals had been inspired by “government ignorance and fear.” He said it was not just technical idiocy that policy makers were guilty of.

No more whistle-blowers?

“They’ve also never dealt with a terrorist event,” he said, during an event at the London School of Economics (LSE) yesterday. “They do not understand the power of what they’re talking about.”

He claimed that one side effect of the law, if it came into force, would be that “there will not be another whistle-blower in this country unless they are on career suicide.” Davis argued that anyone who thought they would be able to offer up important information anonymously would not be able to do so if the laws were to come into force.

Davis told TechWeekEurope “at the moment it is a defensive battle where it should be a positive aggressive action.”

“It will waste vast quantities of resources that should go into other areas,” he added. “The people they won’t hoover up are the people who use sophisticated means of communication.

“It will turn us into a nation of suspects.”

Currently the proposed legislation, also known as the Interception Modernisation Programme Version 2, looks set to go to a draft version next month. Many expect it will be announced in the Queen’s Speech on 9 May.

The changes would see black boxes installed at ISPs, in which communications data would be picked out by specialised scripts before being sent to GCHQ. The government has repeatedly stated no content would not be viewed, only comms details on who is speaking to who. Yet some do not believe such separation is even possible.

For instance, when checking up on use of webmail services, it would be extremely difficult to get deep packet inspection technology to split the right data when looking through HTML, as noted by Peter Sommer, a digital forensics expert and an expert witness in civil cases on computer-related issues. In many cases, webmail services are encrypted with SSL anyway, so GCHQ would not even be able to look at the communications in the first place, unless they used hardcore, expensive brute force techniques.

Yesterday, it emerged MPs are planning to meet up with Facebook, Google and other tech giants to discuss what the laws would mean for them. The MP leading those discussions, Julian Huppert, also slammed politicians’ lack of technical understanding.

“Most people making policy don’t get it. They simply don’t understand,” Huppert said. “It is a real problem to get them interested… MPs are often generalists.”

Many have pointed to the technical flaws of the proposals. There are numerous ways people can avoid surveillance regardless of what the government does and even just using Skype could help people avoid detection.

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