Spying on your phone and email


It was with great irony and despicable deceit that UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown was commemorating the fall of communism in Berlin on Monday.  In his remarks, he insisted that the tide of history was moving towards our “best hopes,” and praised the people who helped end tyranny and bring down the wall.

Too bad it was all poppycock.

Simultaneously, Brown’s government back in London was announcing its plans for the rather innocuous sounding “Interception Modernisation Programme,” which is a law that grants the British government access to the phone records, emails, and web searches of its citize… er, subjects.

To be clear, ALL European Union member states, including the UK, are already required by EU Directive 2006/24/EC to retain private electronic data for a period of 6 to 12 months. The information that governments must collect includes the date, time, duration, source, destination, and device information of all electronic communication, to include phone and email.

I came face to face with this directive while attempting to use a public internet terminal in Italy earlier this year– the attendant was required to make a copy of my passport, and I was notified that my web activity would be logged.  Needless to say, I politely declined.

Despite these utterly draconian measures, the British government believes that the EU directive does not go far enough.

Now, the Interception Modernisation Programme plans to force all electronic communication providers (wireless companies, cable companies, internet service providers, etc.) to keep a record of every communication by every customer for a period of 1-year, and make the data available to 653 public agencies.

The most insulting part about the program is that the communication providers will be reimbursed for this inconvenience at taxpayer expense to the tune of about $360 million each year.

The UK turned into a surveillance state long ago… and unfortunately the trend is getting worse, not better.

There are legions of yellow vested government do-gooders in constant presence across Britain’s cities without any apparent mission other than to exist and take notice.

Similarly, during one stay at a swanky London hotel, I counted 7 CCTV cameras on the route from the hotel bar to my room.  I once counted over 20 cameras at a busy London intersection.

In fact, signs reading “CCTV Monitoring in Progress” are ubiquitous, even in places where there is absolutely, positively no camera present. It’s almost as if the government intends to spook people into behaving properly, just like the “Do not open door, ALARM WILL SOUND” signs you see in the US. 

Hey, nobody wants to be the guy responsible for the alarm sounding… better keep that behavior in check.

Ironically, the UK’s spying program has its roots in a 1985 law called the Interception of Communications Act; at the time, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the practice of intercepting communications violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Ah, once upon a time, privacy was a human right? But then again, we were all fighting godless Soviet commies at the time and went out of our way to underscore individual freedom and liberty. 

Now our governments feel the need to protect us from angry men hiding in caves, damn the consequences.

I think there must be a lot of boiling frogs in the UK that are starting to notice how hot the pot is becoming.  Sadly, the reality of all governments is that once a power is given to the politicians, it is rarely relinquished.

Consequently, do not expect the British government, or any other, to sound the ‘All Clear!’ bell and suddenly abdicate its ability to monitor the citizenry.

So… what to do?

We’ve talked about anonymous mobile phone calls, offshore email accounts and TrueCrypt hard drive encryption before.  In addition to these tools, there are email encryption platforms available like EndCryptor (www.endcryptor.com) and PGP, which I will review in greater detail in the future.

For a more private web surfing experience, you can use a browser add-on like Tor (https://www.torproject.org/overview.html.en), and go through a secure tunnel VPN that will change your IP address, like www.publicVPN.com

Let me know  if you’d like more information on these tools and I can write a more detailed article.  Furthermore, I plan on releasing a list of countries that I have traveled to where privacy is still the rule, not the exception.