Monday, 24 November 2014

UK Government wants to force ISPs to keep, reveal IP allocations

The UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, thinks the government needs more powers to tackle terrorism and child sexual exploitation. With a tagline like that, you already know what’s coming.  In this case, they want ISPs to store – and presumably reveal when asked – which IP addresses are assigned to what devices

This article garbles the technical details but presumably May wants the government to be able to associate IPs with MAC addresses on command. That means that a device’s activity can be traced both within an ISP’s scope and across ISPs. This is problematic.

Devices can be used by more than one person, so a device’s activity doesn’t necessarily identify a person. So if the government can identify a device engaged in occasionally dodgy (by whatever standards it uses) activity, it’s going to need more information – information about users of that device – in order to act. How are they going to get that information? I can think of several ways, each more opaque and subject to abuse than the last.  This sounds like a medium-term strategy to move as quickly as possible toward associating every piece of internet traffic with a specific person, doesn’t it?

It’s a pity I’m afflicted by the occasional moral. I could earn a fortune telling Theresa May how to make staggeringly bad ideas sound attractive. Although presumably someone else already has that gig,

Here are the people Theresa May wants to identify:

  • Organised criminals
  • Cyber-bullies and hackers
  • Terror suspects and child sex offenders communicating over the internet
  • Vulnerable people such as children using social media to discuss taking their own life

Even recognising the hyper-obviously problematic grouping of these already dubious categories (terror suspects and actual child sex offenders, really?) it’s clear that one of these things is not like the others. What business does the government have identifying vulnerable people without their consent? What do they plan to do with that information? It’s terrifying.

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