August 14, 2012
from Slate Website
It isn’t a coincidence that the U.S., Canada, Australia, and the U.K.
are proposing similar laws to permit monitoring
of Internet communications.
on how to lawfully monitor
When Americans are displeased with their politicians, they like to threaten to move to Canada.
But if you’re tempted to move north - or even
further afield - to get away from plans for increased Internet surveillance
by the government, think again. Controversial new surveillance laws proposed
United Kingdom, and
Australia have quite a
bit in common. And it’s no coincidence.
But what has gone largely unremarked upon is the
role played by little-known networks of telecom companies and international
government agencies, which have been quietly collaborating to reform
surveillance laws so that they are “harmonized” to a similar standard from
country to country.
The decisions they have made, largely beyond
public scrutiny, could lead to a fundamental shift in the Web’s basic
Focused mainly on North America but collaborating internationally, ATIS’s list of more than 180 members includes the FBI’s specialist Electronic Surveillance Technology Section alongside many familiar companies:
One recent ATIS presentation, given by a representative from CenturyLink in late 2011, detailed how the organization was working on updating standards for intercepting communications sent over voice over IP chat services (like Skype) and IMS networks.
IMS is considered a “next generation” telecom network that combines mobile and fixed networks into one.
Law enforcement agencies see IMS as a challenge
in part because it can enable difficult-to-intercept mobile VOIP calls.
Some are government departments tasked with upgrading surveillance laws in their respective countries:
Several of the world’s largest telecom firms, including,
...participate in ETSI’s lawful-interception meetings.
ETSI’s January 2012 white paper on “security for ICT” (information and communication technologies) detailed that it is working toward,
Ultan Mulligan, an ETSI spokesman, said the organization focuses on finding “agreed technical solutions” to lawful interception across borders because it’s not economical for telecommunications companies to have a different mechanism in each country.
He added that consumer groups and universities focused on telecommunications and ICT industry can attend and contribute to ETSI’s lawful interception meetings if they are paid-up members.
But “private individuals” (including journalists
or interested citizens) cannot attend or apply for membership.
Jargon and acronym-laced minutes from 3GPP
meetings published online occasionally offer a fascinating glimpse into the
scale of international collaboration on upgrading surveillance capabilities.
The United Kingdom in particular was said to be
concerned that performing an “active attack” to spy on people “may be
illegal” under British law. The U.K. was reportedly working on a separate
method of intercepting IMS communications so it would not have to resort to
Formed in 1988, the group operates a series of committees and subcommittees, attended by companies including,
...which deal with issues covering electronic surveillance.
The TIA is currently helping develop standards for interception of VOIP and data retention alongside ETSI and ATIS.
Interestingly, it has also been pressuring authorities in India to adopt global standards for surveillance, calling on the country’s government to create a,
...attend annual GSC meetings, where they discuss and vote on issues affecting the industry - including upgrading surveillance capabilities.
Crucially, in 2003 the GSC approved a resolution that called for,
This was a collective commitment made by all
participating organizations - among them ETSI, the TIA, and ATIS - to work
toward “common, harmonized, shared systems of law” relating to
Canada has also signed - but not ratified - the
treaty, and Australia
intends to sign. The convention codifies a commitment
to establish a system of mutual assistance for issues related to computer
crime. This includes measures related to enabling real-time surveillance of
The report also stated that Canada had based a proposed surveillance bill, C-74, on,
Designed to ensure that law enforcement agencies could legally intercept any communication regardless of the technology used to send it, C-74 never became law due in part to opposition from the public and civil liberties groups.
Bill C-30, currently being pursued by
Canada’s government, is essentially a second generation version of C-74 and
would implement many of the same powers.
The latest developments in,
...could well be part of a tradition dating back more than 60 years.
In his book GCHQ - The Uncensored Story of Britain’s Most Secret Intelligence Agency, academic Richard J. Aldrich noted that after World War II, a series of surveillance and intelligence-related treaties, alliances, and agreements were made between the countries, leading to the creation of,
Unlike in previous decades, though, the proposed expansion of surveillance today is inward-looking: domestic, not foreign.
It is linked not to
combating state-level threats but to unprecedented technological advances.
With more people communicating online than ever before,
authorities say they
are losing the ability to track and monitor suspects and that secrecy is
necessary to conceal their techniques from criminals.
What I’m saying is that without greater levels of public scrutiny or input, officials will sow mistrust - and end up defeating themselves.
Already some are proposing “surveillance-proof”
Internet providers, in part fueled by
well-founded fears about clandestine
mass snooping programs.
What’s essential is honest debate on surveillance between all sides in all countries.
But that debate can’t and won’t happen until
governments and telecom companies can at least commit to being more
transparent about the scale and purpose of their collaboration.