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The UK government’s draft Communications Bill is due to be published today

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch yesterday noted that “This policy will track every email we send, every Facebook message and log every website we visit in a way that no other democratic country does.” He is also concerned at the way the Home Office seems to be handling the release of information about the bill. “The Home Office has done its best to hide this announcement by releasing details at the same time as the Prime Minister speaks at the Leveson enquiry,” implying that all eyes will be turned elsewhere, and that today is a good day to bury bad news.

But if that was the intention, it hasn’t worked; and could even back-fire. MP David Davis, figurehead for libertarian Conservative MPs within parliament was interviewed on the BBC’s Today programme this morning. While Home Secretary Theresa May was telling Sky News, “This is about purely having access to the who, when and where of communications,” Davis told the BBC, “The only people who will avoid this, avoid being covered by this, are the actual criminals because they are always around this. You use a pre-paid phone, you use an internet cafe to hack into somebody's wi-fi. You use what is called proxy servers, and those are just the easy ways. There are harder ways too and you know, actually, the 7/7 bombers went round it. Organized criminals go round it. Organized pedophile rings go round it. What this will catch is the innocent and the incompetent.”

A separate report on the BBC website today states that “Assistant Chief Constable Gary Beautridge, head of data communications at the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said the current lack of access to details of internet communications was hampering investigations.” But with eyes now turned towards Cameron and the Leveson enquiry, it might remind people of incidents of police corruption, where data was sold by police officers to journalists. The Communications Bill will expose a huge volume of private and sensitive personal data to leakage via the people legally entitled to access it.

But it’s not simply the nature of the bill that concerns critics. Many wonder if it is feasible. The Home Office stresses that only communications data, not communications content, will be monitored. But experts wonder if it is possible to separate the two. Peter Sommer, visiting professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, noted in his Briefing on the Interception Modernisation Programme, “Thus, both for existing Internet-based services but for any in the future, the current separation of “communications data” from “content” looks unworkable: interpretations in individual cases are difficult; even when an interpretation is forthcoming, the practical problems of separating the one from the other are considerable. If something isn't “communications data” it is almost overwhelmingly “content” and so requires a warrant from the Secretary of State and is inadmissible in evidence.”

The bottom line for many, however, is that even if the government is correct about the need for this bill, and even if it can technically separate communications data from communications content, it simply won’t work. LibDem MP John Hemming, one of the more technologically competent members of parliament (he is a cryptographer and was the first person to write an implementation of SSL outside of the US back in 1995), told Infosecurity, “I haven't seen the draft bill, but I cannot work out technically how they are going to use man-in-the-middle interception to get anything other than IP addresses - and that falls on onion routing. What they will do if they are not careful is make everyone use encryption rather than just those people who have something criminal going on.” If the Communications Bill goes ahead, TOR and encryption can look forward to a huge spike in popularity and use in the UK.

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