Well, excellent scoop from Channel 4. Apparently, the government has discovered a Magic Box of some description.
Internet and phone firms are preparing to install “black boxes” to monitor UK internet and phone traffic, and decode encrypted messages – including Facebook and GMail messages.
When I say scoop, of course, I’m being sarcastic, since the plans are well-known and several years old.
Home Office officials have told senior figures from the internet and telecommunications industries that the “black box” technology could automatically retain and store raw data from the web before transferring it to a giant central database controlled by the Government.
But Channel 4 say that these boxes have some pretty amazing abilities, including that of decrypting all internet traffic. Apparently the government’s Magic Box decrypts everything, throws away the content and then sends the message headers back to the ISP for storage, although why they would bother doing this isn’t clear – why doesn’t the government store them? Anyway, the point is that the government knows what you are looking at. So…
The Prime Minister spoke recently about the possibility that internet services or devices might come with a filter on as their default setting, and said that the government should investigate that option and seek views on it.
Why can’t the government do this? Since it knows what you’re looking at, if you’re looking at child pornography, Nazi drug-dealing propaganda or the Labour party manifesto then the Magic Box can simply throw away the traffic. I’m thinking of popping along to the Conservative Technology Forum in a couple of weeks’ time so I’ll ask the question there: if these Magic Boxes do exist, then why doesn’t the government use them to block child pornography? And if they say that they won’t, then I’ll write the Daily Wail headline myself: “Cameron decides to allow child pornography”.
I’ve tried googling to find out how the Magic Boxes are going to decrypt SSL sessions but without success. It could be that one of the big IT suppliers has told the government that it can be done provided several hundred million quid are invested in building custom systems, and that when a billion quid has been wasted on it they will just cancel the project (like the NHS Supercomputer). One implication is obvious though: the government will have to ban VPNs and PGP.
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