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New UK Internet Snooping Law Confusion Hits the London Internet Exchange

Monday, February 20th, 2017 (9:17 am) - Score 1,006

The new Investigatory Powers Act has been blamed for encouraging the London Internet Exchange to allegedly consider the introduction of a new constitution that would allow secret surveillance orders and gag directors from talking about it. But LINX says the claims are “highly misleading“.

At present LINX remains the central hub for much of the Internet traffic that comes into and goes out of the United Kingdom. Similarly most of the country’s major and minor broadband ISPs can be counted among its membership. “With over 740 members connecting from over 72 different countries worldwide, LINX members have access to direct routes from a large number of diverse international peering partners,” says the IXP.

Sadly the new IPAct includes various Internet snooping requirements that could impact LINX, as well as other IXPs and ISPs, which means that like it or not the exchange may have little option but to adjust for the law. Certainly that seems to be the connection that The Register has made, although the related governance consultation (here) doesn’t appear to go quite as far as claimed and may actually afford extra protection for members (see below for LINX’s comment).

However LINX’s membership appears to be far from happy about some of the proposed changes, with Neil McRae (BT’s Chief Network Architect) warning of “many challenges with how this would be achievable.”

William Waites, Scotland’s HUBS Internet Service, said:

“LINX has been talking about changes for several years. There is no need to rush this through now, with no time for scrutiny, buried inside complex documents that few LINX members will have the time to read or understand – especially overseas. We need to know if this is being proposed because the government wants to get new taps into our networks.”

Separately the boss of business focused ISP Andrews & Arnold (AAISP), Adrian Kennard, has been busy blogging about the proposals (here) and what they could mean for both LINX and ISPs.

Adrian Kennard said:

“This is a serious matter – what do all of the secret / gagged orders in the Investigatory Powers Act mean for a membership organisation like LINX? Could it mean secret orders that a handful of people know if implemented in order to spy on member’s traffic? Every member is a part of LINX!

Well, what I am told is that is not the idea, but I am concerned that the changes could inadvertently allow such orders. We need to be sure of some transparency, at least, before approving them.

However, what it has hi-lighted is that we need some frank and open debate within LINX on the whole issue of the IP Act and the possibility of secret orders to snoop on LINX traffic. The same needs to happen at LONAP too. … My own staff are already asking if we should stay LINX members or leave … and we are not alone in asking this.”

The issue is due to be discussed at tomorrow’s Extraordinary General Meeting (2:30pm), but LINX has already said that the claims are “highly misleading” and stem from what they say is effectively just a “routine story about a review of LINX’s internal governance.” LINX also noted that “nothing in the proposals bans directors from asking members anything … there is no basis in fact for this claim.”

On the other hand LINX does say that the Articles they have put forward for member consideration do include a clause intended to “prevent a minority of the Board from forcing the company to break the law“, which works by empowering the Chair to stop that minority from blocking a legally necessary Board decision.

LINX Statement

“In the unlikely event LINX were ever instructed under the Investigatory Powers Act (a.k.a. the “Snoopers’ Charter”) to intercept traffic, that would likely come with a gag order – not because of anything in our Articles, but because gag orders are a part of that law, just like they are a part of similar laws in most countries.

Under our current proposals, we recommend creating a special new ability for elected directors to veto a decision by a majority of the Board. This is intended to further protect membership control of LINX. We do propose constraining this new power, so that it cannot be used to force the company to break the law without majority support on the Board. This has nothing in particular to do with gag orders under the Investigatory Powers Act; it is equally applicable to any law.

In our view, to make the controversial issue of government surveillance powers the focus of a story that is really about an ordinary corporate governance review is in our view quite misleading as to the nature and effect of our proposals. LINX is a committed membership organisation, and our members will be the ones that decide whether to change our Articles. It is a shame that a provision intended to reinforce the membership’s control of the company as its governance evolves has been so misrepresented.”

The debate is perhaps to be expected, particularly given the far reaching consequences of the Government’s new IPAct. Internet service and content providers around the United Kingdom will probably also have to deal with similar internal discussions of their own, as each attempts to grasp with the enormity of what has been introduced.

In the meantime the IPAct itself isn’t completely out of the woods and a recent court ruling may yet force future amendments to limit its power (here), at least until the Brexit process completes.

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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.
Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. Avatar Anonymous Coward

    Neither the power to force a network to intercept traffic, nor the power to force the network operator to keep it secret, is new to the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. Both powers existed under RIPA 2000 – and under IOCA 1984 too, I think.

    There’s nothing new here.

    • RIPA was of course declared invalid because of its covert state surveillance (tapping international fibre optic cables etc.) and a related court case is still on-going that could impact the replacement IPAct in a similar way, but that’s another story.

      At the individual ISP level the new law is a different kettle of fish. RIPA was targeted towards individuals and required a warrant before content could be intercepted. By comparison the IPAct is not targeted and a warrant is not required in order to see a log of your Internet Connection activity, although one is still needed for content.

      So for ISPs it’s a significantly bigger cost and technical challenge than before.

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