Snooping on the Snooper's Charter

05 December 2016

Interview with

Peter Cowley, Tech Investor

In the last week, the UK Government's Investigatory Act became Law.  Known asComputer the 'Snooper's Charter' the law requires internet service providers to keep a record of all internet browsing history. The justification for the act is that it will help intelligence services counter terrorism, but critics point out that the information will also be shared with intelligence agencies but also government departments as diverse as HM revenue and Customs and the Department of Transport.  Tech investor Peter Cowley joined Graihagh Jackson in the studio...

Peter - They're storing the record of where you browse, so where you've looked at. They would, for instance, store the fact that you've been on the BBC website and how long you've been there. What they're not storing, at the moment anyway who knows later, is which pages you looked at. Whether you've gone on the technology page, the politics page etc., and all the internet service providers, the ones we log on to, will store that for up to a year.

The justification is that by having somebody who's committed a crime or is likely to commit a crime, looking at their browsing history will give you an idea of what they've been looking at and, therefore, what they might have been researching on. So, an extreme example would be bomb making. You'd go onto a site which is only about bomb making, that would then make the connection there for the security forces.

Graihagh - Surely a' needle in a haystack' kind of scenario. I'm thinking of how many web pages I look at in a week and then times that by the population of the U.K. - a huge number of people and data there. Do you think this is a step too far?

Peter - Definitely a step too far. The actual amount of data, if they can work out what your ISP was, they can at least go to that ISP and work out what you've connected on.

Graihagh - Sorry - ISP?

Peter - Internet Service Provider - that's the person you're actually connect to. There will be a vast amount of data. The thought of actually looking through all this data for a whole year, as you say, how many zeros do you want to go to?

Graihagh - Mind Boggling!

Peter - Yeah. So to actually look through all the data will be almost impossible, but I think they will be targeting somebody at that point.

Graihagh - You might argue that, actually, everything is hackable these days, nothing's really safe. So how safe do you think this is going to be with the internet service providers?

Peter - Very unsafe!  If it's regarded by somebody who wants to hack it as a very valuable source of data, which it probably will be.

Graihagh - Why would it be valuable?

Peter - Well, it would be valuable because imagine the situation where you're browsing on say some medical condition that you don't want other people to know about. That could be used in a way that you would lose out on.

Graihagh - Blackmail maybe?

Peter - Blackmail, exactly. I was thinking also your medical insurance company might be. I'm sure it wouldn't go that far. It's data that you want to keep private to yourself. Your religion, there's a number of other things you could be looking at looking at.

Graihagh - And that's not safe - this information won't be safe in your opinion?

Peter - Not at all! All these databases are hacked. But you've mentioned a step too far. At the moment we of course, in principle, trust our governments, but imagine once this things in place at what point can you continue to trust the government. I mean, there has been change in government in the States, hasn't there?

Graihagh - Well speaking of the States, you know the UK is one of the most surveyed counties in the world. What's the stance elsewhere, in America say?

Peter - In America, and Australia, and Canada, and New Zealand, for instance, they have a similar system in that they can store this data but they do need a warrant before it can actually be accessed. At the moment this is set up so it just needs a senior manager to say they can look at someone's data.

Graihagh - A senior manager! That's it?

Peter - A senior manager, yes. An inspector rank within the police, for instance.

Graihagh - Wow!

Peter - And another thing, if you want to hide this you can easily. You can hide behind VPNs, which is a virtual private network. Behind whatsapp, for instance, has got it's own encoding or encrypting. And, of course, the people who want to hide - will. They'll put these systems in place. An HTTPS, which is a secure site used for banking, that data will not be accessible or readable. So it will be the innocent people that will have their data stored and the guilty will have worked a way round it.

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