Why Internet Monitoring Laws Will Make Criminals Harder to Catch [Opinion]

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internet monitoring lawsWhile the ITU is busy behind closed doors trying to take away Internet freedoms on a global scale, the UK government brazenly announced plans to give wide-reaching Internet monitoring powers to various British agencies as well as increasing the amount of retention time of data ISPs must store.

Although the so-called “web snooping” plans have been met with widespread criticism and the Prime Minister has announced they would need to be adjusted, the UK government is insistent that some form of monitoring powers will be enacted, as they are “increasingly neccssary to tackle extremists, paedophiles and fraudsters”.

The Proposals

As it stands, the proposals for those Internet monitoring laws are as follows:

  • ISPs must keep records for 1 year of all data transmissions including time, duration, originating device, and recipient.
  • ISPs must record browsing history, emails, VOIP calls, gaming activity and social media messages.
  • Police would not need permission to access basic details of this data, but they would need a warrant in order to get at the actual content of the message or data in question.

Bear in mind these are due to be rewritten somewhat, but the core principles will stay; and while this may be UK-specific, you can be certain the US government is planning something similar.

So, What’s The Problem?

I’m not even going to touch upon the obvious invasion of privacy that these new laws represent. We all know that any form of stored data can and will be hacked, but there are others are out there to fight that particular battle.

Let me then preface this by saying that I’m certainly not a “privacy nut”. I don’t think you should break the Internet by blocking advertising cookies, and I’m actually in favour of making ID cards mandatory for everyone in the UK. But these web snooping laws pose a clear danger to society, and here’s why – they will have the opposite of the intended effect.

internet monitoring laws

I posit that by giving law enforcement agencies broad reaching powers to examine web records, the criminals will get smarter; it will be harder to catch them, not easier. At the moment, police already have the power to subpoena information on criminals if they can justify it to a court; and they do. And right now, I suspect that not all criminals are smart enough to hide their tracks properly, to use secure protocols and encrypt data transmissions.

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But anyone who reads this blog will know about such simple technologies like VPNs, which encrypt traffic and prevent even your ISP from having the slightest clue what you’re doing online – so keeping a year’s worth of ISP records would be worthless. I know, because I use one myself. If the government had the power to snoop on any of our web traffic, it’s reasonable to assume that the usage of such services would skyrocket. It would suddenly become a necessity rather than a luxury for using the Internet at all, and this applies to criminals as well as the public.

Not just VPNs either, but all manner of existing encrypted protocols and secure transmission methods would become public knowledge out of sheer necessity. If you know for sure that someone is staring through your windows, you buy curtains.

The Evolution Of Protocols & Software

Not only would everyone use existing technologies and services to further enhance their privacy, the Internet itself would evolve to support even greater levels of privacy than currently possible – for both you and I – as well as the paedeophiles, the terrorists, and the scammers.

There is a precedence for this form of protocol and software evolution. Remember Napster? It was a pretty slow and laborious way of sharing songs with a few friends; the music industry was quick to shut it down, and piracy was once more erased from existence. The problem of copyright infringement was solved!

internet monitoring laws

Please forgive my droll British sarcasm, because as we all know, the problem was not solved. Far from it – piracy got worse. New software was developed which not only shared music, but movies too. Then they shut that down. The Internet evolved again, moving beyond simple one-to-one file sharing to developing the distributed download torrent protocol. It was now faster and easier than ever to share an entire collection of GBs of files with anyone – potentially millions of people at the same time.

So now they set to work on shutting down the sites that “host” these torrent files; and look what that did! The sites gained exposure – the PirateBay’s traffic actually went up – and the torrent protocol evolved again to no longer require hosting sites or trackers. Time and time again, it has been proven that tackling piracy only made the problem worse.

I think the exact same process will happen when these laws come into play. The Internet will evolve – again. New protocols and easy to use encryption services – virtualy uncrackable – and the widespread proliferation of VPNs that securely hide your traffic and keep no records – will become the norm. Will VPNs become illegal too?

As a technology writer, I’m at the forefront of technology – I’ll make sure that myself, my family and my readers are well versed in securing their online activities. We don’t have anything to worry about. But I believe the police do actually have enough powers to catch online criminals already. Moreover, I’m afraid that by enacting these catastrophic Internet monitoring laws, the UK government will forever make Britain less safe and online criminals harder to catch. We won’t know about the next homegrown terror plot to blow up London, because they’ll be using a VPN.

Do you agree or disagree?  Let us know your views on the subject in the comments below.

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Comments (45)
  • dragonmouth

    Achraf,
    What do you know of computers, besides the desktop or laptop in your room?

    “I said chips, not supercomputers.”
    I know what you said. However, for serious data manipulation, one does not use “chips”, one uses super computers or computer clusters.

    “Computer Clusters and Supercomputers….their cost of building is unbelievably high”
    Right now there are older Cray super computers for sale on eBay starting at $10,000. A computer cluster of 256 nodes can be built from recycled PCs for about the same $10,000. However, governments and governmental agencies use the latest and the greatest available. Top of the line commercially available super computers run between $100 million and $250 million. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of them located at universities, research centers, national weather bureaus and oil companies.

    “I hope you have an idea of what it takes (in computer processing power terms) to decrypt just a single HTTPS request”
    Do you? It does not take very much. Otherwise there would be no constant break ins into all kinds of computer networks, from a home LAN to the Pentagon. There would be no identity theft. Any hacker with a decent laptop and a packet sniffer can break into most networks.

    “If they have so much money to spend on so much supercomputers and decryption machines development”
    To national governments national security is worth all the money they spend on it.

    “they did better spend them on creating jobs for every Human living on the planet”
    Why would/should Arab countries spend any money on providing jobs for the Israelis and vice versa?
    Why would/should India spend any money on creating jobs for Pakistan and vice versa?
    etc., etc. etc.
    In a perfect world there would be no need for national defense, national boundaries, nations or religions. We would all live in an utopian world. However, humans are not perfect. No amount of money will change that.

    “I’m sure that much money can end joblessness and poverty.”
    We can all live happily ever after in a world-wide welfare state.

  • dragonmouth

    U.K. is becoming a police state to rival North Korea, East Germany and other dictatorships. Before you get your undies in a knot about my statement, to be fair, the rest of the Western “democracies” are following suit.

    James, you are taking a one-sided view of the problem. Yes, technology and encryption will improve, but do you think that the lawmakers will sit on their hands in the meantime? As soon as it is evident that the laws are not having the desired effect, those laws will be made more restrictive. At some point VPNs and encryption will be outlawed. Only official government agencies will be allowed to use them.

    In the United States NSA, CIA, FBI and all law enforcement entities are constantly clamoring and lobbying for ANY encryption scheme that is being developed to contain built-in backdoors so that they can easily access the encrypted information. IIRC, the developer of PGP refused to include a back door or give the authorities a key. He was taken to court by the government. Luckily for our privacy the judges kept ruling that the government did not provide compelling enough reasons to be granted its request (demand). In spite of the setbacks, the government keeps trying. How much longer it will take before they find a friendly court to grant them access, is anybody’s guess.

    • Muo TechGuy

      Well, I hope we get more CCTV, too.

    • dragonmouth

      Don’t worry, you will. CCTV will become ubiquitous. An inmate in a maximum security prison will have more freedom and privacy than the “free” citizens.

  • benn dennison

    hit the nail right on the head

  • Achraf Almouloudi

    I completely agree with James as the Internet is made to be an open space and even the government won’t be able to stop that. Do they know how much worth of traffic is exchanged through the Internet per year ? even if the ISPs buy all the world’s hard drives they won’t be able to store what data was exchanged in 2012 or any future year, and the problem is that MOST of that data is useless, because although we use Facebook, Twitter, Google, Ebay … we use them in HTTPS and that makes it IMPOSSIBLE for them to know what we’re doing there. I think governments should let the Internet alone and sit to solve more important problems like education and poverty.

    • Anon

      Don’t worry Achraf, the NSA is working on that and in a few years at most, will be able to crack what is now our best encryption.

    • Achraf Almouloudi

      No, unless processor chip makers develop very powerful units this would not be possible, the chips should become able to do trillions of trillions of tries in a short amount of time to achieve that.

    • Anon

      They will accomplish it through cryptanalysis. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/all/1

    • dragonmouth

      “No, unless processor chip makers develop very powerful units this would not be possible”
      Did you ever hear of Super Computers such as Cray, Deep Blue, Blue Fire that can do PETAflops of transactions? Have you ever heard of computer clusters such as IBM Sequoia that also run at PetaFlop speeds? I guess these computers qualify as doing “trillions and trillions of tries in a very short amount of time”

      Those are only the known computers. What kind of computers NSA is anybody’s guess but I’m sure they ARE NOT i486 based.

    • Muo TechGuy

      Lol. NSA uses a room of 486SX’s ;)

    • Achraf Almouloudi

      I said chips, not supercomputers. I know there are Computer Clusters and Supercomputers capable of doing so much computing, but their cost of building is unbelievably high so naturally they couldn’t make hundreds of thousands of them to decrypt all the encrypted data on the Internet. I hope you have an idea of what it takes (in computer processing power terms) to decrypt just a single HTTPS request, multiply that per every bit of data that’s encrypted on the Internet and you know how bad that idea is.

      If they have so much money to spend on so much supercomputers and decryption machines development, they did better spend them on creating jobs for every Human living on the planet. I’m sure that much money can end joblessness and poverty.

    • dragonmouth

      “Do they know how much worth of traffic is exchanged through the Internet per year ? ”
      Not only do they know, NSA already records ALL of electro-magnetic transmissions in the US and anywhere else they can.

      “we use them in HTTPS and that makes it IMPOSSIBLE for them to know what we’re doing there”
      I guess you are living proof of the adage that “Ignorance is bliss”

    • Muo TechGuy

      Impossible; there’s not enough hard drives in the world to store that much data.

    • dragonmouth

      Not only possible but it is already in place and active. Google NarusInsight.

    • Achraf Almouloudi

      As “Muo TechGuy” said, there is not enough hard drives in the world to store that much data, and even if there is, it would be the stupidest thing NSA would have ever done, because 99% of what they would’ve captured would be just annoying and useless content, you know what I mean.

    • dragonmouth

      MUO TechGuy is not the alpha and omega of computer knowledge. His opinions are just that, opinions, not facts. And they are only his.

      “it would be the stupidest thing NSA would have ever done”
      Maybe yes, maybe no. Governments and government agencies often do stupid things. Since NSA is an intelligence agency, information is intelligence. So NSA is gathering intelligence.

      “because 99% of what they would’ve captured would be just annoying and useless content, you know what I mean.”
      No, I don’t know what you mean. To YOU it may be 99% useless, to somebody else like the NSA, it may be 99% useful. BTW – where do you get the “99% useless” number? Did somebody do a survey, or are you just throwing numbers around?

      For the sake of the argument, let’s assume you are right and only 1% of the information is useful. How do you propose to recognize that 1% and then capture it? Will the information have a “This is a terrorist plan” label on it? Or will it say “NSA please copy me”?

      To give you a comparison, the SETI Project (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is listening for alien signals on 9 BILLION different frequencies at the same time. SInce they do not know ahead of time on which particular frequency an intelligent signal will come in, they have to record the data from ALL 9 billion frequencies. NSA is doing the same thing. Since they do not know what form a terrorist message will take or at what time it will be heard, they have to record everything for analysis later.

  • Tferree Ferree

    When will authorities and the public finally admit that you cannot stop criminal behavior-you can only punish? Spanking a child for bad behavior doesn’t teach them good behavior. It just teaches them they better figure out how to not get caught. This idea isn’t even spanking the criminals, it’s spanking everyone. Criminals will be criminals will be criminals. But addressing the real problem(s) would make too much sense.

    • Robert Ward

      They will never admit that, mainly because they know already, all part of the plan for total control of our lives, those of use they wish to keep anyway!

    • Muo TechGuy

      There’s no conspiracy theory here; just stupid and clueless lawmakers.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.