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MI5 Builds New Centre To Read Email

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    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2000
      NHNE News List
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      Nicholas Rufford
      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
      an organisation.

      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
      Policy Research.

      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
      immigration rackets.

      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
      making losses.

      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."


      David Sunfellow
      NewHeavenNewEarth (NHNE)
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