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[] Netzueberwachung in UK,

BBC, 6.6.2002

Questions over net snooping centre

Centre will be based at MI5 headquarters

A controversial internet snooping centre to be opened in the summer by
the UK Government could cause more problems than it solves, experts
say. The National Technical Assistance Centre (NTAC) will decrypt
computer data and intercepted internet and e-mail traffic as part of a
drive against cyber-crime, reports the technology news magazine,

It follows a much-criticised law, the Regulation of Investigatory
Powers Act, which came into force in October 2000 and gave law
enforcers sweeping powers to spy on internet communications.

However, government plans to foil cyber criminals could backfire,
according to a member of the Internet Service Providers' Association
(ISPA), Stephen Dyer.

"It could prove counter-productive. If the government is being seen as
taking encryption seriously then it will drive criminals to use
encryption more," he said.

"Modern encryption is almost uncrackable, especially in the timescale
needed to stop a crime," he added.

Much to do

NTAC is also running into other obstacles, as the RIP Act it is designed
enforce undergoes some serious rewrites.

The government wants to plug into the internet and grab everything
they want from it

Stephen Dyer, ISPA Experts argue that the law was rushed through
parliament without consultation with industry and as a result is

Earlier in the year, the government admitted that the complex process
of obtaining encryption keys had not yet fully been worked out and a
public consultation would be necessary.

Without a quick and easy way of getting hold of encryption keys, NTAC
would "be dead in the water", said Mr Dyer.

Black boxes

NTAC will also depend on a controversial network of black boxes,
installed in internet networks and feeding directly into the MI5
building, where the centre will be based.

The idea of such boxes caused outrage when it was suggested. Despite
being included in the RIP Act, no internet service provider (ISP) has
yet been required by government to install such a surveillance system.

Officials now admit that secondary legislation will be necessary
before ISPs can be made to install black boxes.

Even then, ISPs will have recourse to an independent body if they feel
it is too costly which could mean significant delays.

Without such boxes, it will be impossible for NTAC will get its hands
on web communications.

Ultimately, the government's plans for NTAC might be just too
ambitious, said Mr Dyer.

"The government wants to plug into the internet and grab everything
they want from it. That might work for the intelligence services but
I'm not sure it will for law enforcement," he said.

Loss of intelligence

Despite this the government insists that NTAC is a necessary tool in
its fight against cyber-crime.

"Without an appropriate response, rapid developments in information
technology with communications increasingly travelling from
computer-to-computer and information protected by encryption will lead
to a considerable loss of intelligence from lawfully intercepted
communications and evidence from lawfully seized material," read a
Home Office statement.

Much of NTAC's resources will go into tracking terrorist activity and
paedophiles, both of which use the web to communicate.

The drive to step up surveillance of the internet has increased since
the terrorist attacks on 11 September.

In May, the European Parliament voted in favour of forcing phone
companies and internet service providers to retain for years logs on
what all their customers are doing.

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