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AAISP Boss Fears Costly Technical Nightmare of UK Internet Snooping Law

Monday, July 2nd, 2012 (8:08 am) - Score 927
spying on uk ISP internet traffic

The boss of broadband ISP Andrews & Arnold (AAISP), Adrian Kennard, has warned that the UK governments new Communications Data Bill, which will expand existing internet snooping laws and force ISPs into monitoring a much bigger slice of everybody’s online activity, is “technically a nightmare” and will require providers to introduce “stupidly expensive black boxes“.

At present ISPs are already required, if requested, to maintain a very basic log of their customers’ internet website and email accesses (times, dates and IP addresses) for a year, which is made available to various government and security services via a warrant. This does NOT include the actual content of your communication.

The revised law (detailed summary) threatens to go further by providing real-time access to the data and logging activity for more online services, such as Skype or Facebook. But ISPs, many of which have not even been consulted, are growing increasingly concerned about the extremely high costs and technical difficulty of delivering such a system.

Adrian Kennard, Director of Andrews & Arnold, explained (blog):

For an ISP, monitoring communications can, in principle, be done by setting up a monitoring port on one or more switches. These are a port to which the switch tries to send a copy of every packet. Technically, this is simple, though picking where to put this in the network is harder. Also, it is low risk. If the black box breaks, the network does not. If there is too much data, the black box does not see 100% of it, but it sees some, and again, nothing actually breaks.

But, if you want to intercept traffic, that is a lot harder. It means that you send everything in to and back out of a black box. It means ensuring all of the communications goes via this one point, and does not have packets spread over several redundant links. It means your whole network relies on the black box working and having enough capacity to cope with the load. It also means some stupidly expensive black boxes.

Looking on-line there are some expensive boxes that handle 100Mb/s of traffic and some really expensive ones that handle 1Gb/s of traffic. Even A&A’s tiny network is going over 1Gb/s now. They need many orders of magnitude more in order to work with any of the larger UK ISPs. It is basically impossible but trying will break lots of stuff.”

Expensive is right and as a result the government claims that it would be ready to “increase public expenditure up to £1.8 billion over 10 years” (i.e. £180m per year) in order to help implement the system, although many ISPs remain sceptical about whether or not this will cover all of their costs.

Meanwhile it’s sometimes easy for governments to forget that there are plenty of tools available that would allow criminals, as well as innocent individuals, to continue surfing the internet anonymously (VPN’s and advanced proxy tunnel/servers like TOR come to mind).

Adrian Kennard added:

It won’t actually help. There will be ways to communicate securely and without monitoring the communications traffic. There are well established systems in place for this designed to allow people working under oppressive regimes to communicate with the outside would – where being found out could get them shot. Such systems will always exist, and there is no reason to think that they will not be used.”

The new bill, which has some strong opposition (just as it did under the previous Labour government), is now expected to be debated by ministers and peers prior to a report in November 2012.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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10 Responses
  1. You say that at present we have to log web pages and email – this is not quite true. We only log email that goes via our mail servers and web pages accessed on our web servers. We have not been asked to keep these logs for a year. We do not have to snoop on customers to see what web pages they access or what emails or tweets or pokes they do. This new law would require that.

  2. Avatar DanielM

    Doesnt the US and britain always have a go at iran for this type of thing??

    Infact we are told we can start wars because iran censors/monitors the internet, It seams to be a “Human Right for some” eg the countries they want to invade..

  3. Avatar Bob2002

    >easy for governments to forget …

    They won’t forget, look for future legislation covering Tor and VPNs.

    It’s a disgrace and shows the Tories are just as bad as Labour with their Interception Modernisation Programme. If the British public don’t make a lot of noise about this (and they normally don’t make much noise about anything – except warm pasties) then we will sleepwalk into being one of the most surveilled states in the world.

    • Avatar zemadeiran

      “we will sleepwalk into being one of the most surveilled states in the world.”

      We lead the worlds in the number of cctv cameras pointed at it’s population.

      We have already sleep walked out of the house, down to the cliff edge and fallen off…

      There is no we will, that is all.

  4. Avatar Piers

    From our discussions with the Home Office they would consult with each of us (ISPs) and help to design a solution specific for our network. Also as far as I am aware the full cost of implementing and supporting this will be that of the government – they are not expecting ISPs to make any payments towards it.

    Personally I don’t really have too much of an issue with this. Yes you can circumvent it but if you compare it to CCTV on the high street nobody has given their permission for it to be there, and granted you could wear a face mask and avoid being detected. Ultimately though it takes away the apparent right of the internet of being anonymous, which in any society isn’t necessarily a good thing as people will do what they like if they think they can get away with it…

    • Avatar DanielM

      “Personally I don’t really have too much of an issue with this”

      What kind of ISP are you? that thinks its not a problem for the gov to spy on your customers in real time??

    • CCTV is perhaps not the best example as that watches public activity in a public area, while the new bill looks at private activity in a more complicated environment that can be a mix of both.

    • Avatar zemadeiran

      “they are not expecting ISPs to make any payments towards it.”

      Instead the government will make joe public pay for it, so in essence we pay our security services to keep us secure from what exactly?…

      128bit
      256bit
      1024bit
      2048bit

      I was looking forward to the UK growing but instead it seems to be shrinking into an isolated nervous wreck of a has been nation.

  5. Avatar Prying Eyes

    The Government have said that they will fund all reasonable costs over and above what you would have already been expected to retain etc.

    Don’t for one moment think this is going to offer a government funded solution for ISP’s who don’t have soemthing already in place.

    Would be interesting to know what they have offered to pay for to the ISP’s already working on this.

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