MI5 Builds New Centre To Read Email
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MI5 BUILDS NEW CENTRE TO READ E-MAILS ON THE NET
The Sunday Times
April 30 2000
MI5 is building a new £25m e-mail surveillance centre that will have the
power to monitor all e-mails and internet messages sent and received in
Britain. The government is to require internet service providers, such as
Freeserve and AOL, to have "hardwire" links to the new computer facility so
that messages can be traced across the internet.
The security service and the police will still need Home Office permission
to search for e-mails and internet traffic, but they can apply for general
warrants that would enable them to intercept communications for a company or
The new computer centre, codenamed GTAC - government technical assistance
centre - which will be up and running by the end of the year inside MI5's
London headquarters, has provoked concern among civil liberties groups.
"With this facility, the government can track every website that a person
visits, without a warrant, giving rise to a culture of suspicion by
association," said Caspar Bowden, director of the Foundation for Information
The government already has powers to tap phone lines linking computers, but
the growth of the internet has made it impossible to read all material. By
requiring service providers to install cables that will download material to
MI5, the government will have the technical capability to read everything
that passes over the internet.
Home Office officials say the centre is needed to tackle the use of the
internet and mobile phone networks by terrorists and international crime
gangs.Charles Clark, the minister in charge of the spy centre project, said
it would allow police to keep pace with technology.
"Hardly anyone was using the internet or mobile phones 15 years ago," a Home
Office source said. "Now criminals can communicate with each other by a huge
array of devices and channels and can encrypt their messages, putting them
beyond the reach of conventional eavesdropping."
There has been an explosion in the use of the internet for crime in Britain
and across the world, leading to fears in western intelligence agencies that
they will soon be left behind as criminals abandon the telephone and resort
to encrypted e-mails to run drug rings and illegal prostitution and
The new spy centre will decode messages that have been encrypted. Under new
powers due to come into force this summer, police will be able to require
individuals and companies to hand over computer "keys", special codes that
unlock scrambled messages.
There is controversy over how the costs of intercepting internet traffic
should be shared between government and industry. Experts estimate that the
cost to Britain's 400 service providers will be £30m in the first year.
Internet companies say that this is too expensive, especially as many are
About 15m people in Britain have internet access. Legal experts have warned
that many are unguarded in the messages they send or the material they
download, believing that they are safe from prying eyes.
"The arrival of this spy centre means that Big Brother is finally here,"
said Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes. "The balance between the
state and individual privacy has swung too far in favour of the state."
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