A largely secretive (in terms of the mechanism by which it is carried out and the content it entails) surveillance system based on people’s internet activity is existing in the test phase in the UK.
Like many before it, this government scheme is also considered controversial, and while its existence is not a secret, a lot of questions remain unanswered.
With roots in the Investigatory Powers Act – itself strongly criticized by privacy and civil advocates – internet connection records (ICRs) have reportedly been trialed since 2021 by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).
What information is available from official documents reveals that the tool in question is targeting millions of citizens’ internet records via their internet histories.
Over the past year, it emerged that the surveillance system, supposed to be used by law enforcement nationwide, is designed to log and store these histories.
Opponents have the same (valid) arguments they usually do every time such an effort emerges from the government(s): people’s privacy is under threat, because the technology is intrusive to a high degree, and history teaches us that similar tools handling large amounts of personal information are often abused, either unintentionally through poor design and security, or intentionally.
And it doesn’t help that this new effort is the work on which, basically, being developed, tested, and readied for deployment behind closed doors. Reports say it is very difficult to get any official answers about the program and the tool it is producing.
But what has become known from a mandatory Investigatory Powers Act review is that the National Crime Agency seems to love IRCs. When it comes to collecting people’s records – the agency’s assessment is that functionally, and particularly operationally, brings “significant benefit.”
When the – apparently – recent trial happened, it supposedly involved a small number of sites, and once again, ostensibly to make the whole thing more palatable, the NCA was focusing on “thinking of the children,” i.e., these were sites “focused on illegal images of children.”
It is BAE Systems who got the UK government contract to see this thing through last July. The Home Office used the excuse of this third party having “commercial interests” to provide a scanty reply to a Freedom of Information Act and leave out technical details, Wired writes.