Sat, 07 Apr 2007

Spying on its customers is ok... as long as you can lie about it

Sir Swinton Thomas, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, authored the Report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner for 2005-2006 in February 2007:
vi. The Communications Service Providers (CSPs) are very important in this process and their staff do essential work. They are very co-operative and dedicated. I talk to them regularly and they are totally opposed to the concept of intercept being admissible in Court. The present regime provides a high degree of protection to the CSPs and particularly to those members of their staff who work in this sensitive field, and their strong co-operation referred to could easily be undermined. Here again, I think that it is essential for people holding views on this subject to talk to the CSPs, and to listen to what they say, and understand the basis of their strong opposition to any change in the present law.
From the minutes of evidence taken before the joint committee on human rights on 2007-03-12 (uncorrected transcript of oral evidence to be published as HC 394-i)
Q21 Nia Griffith: You mention in your annual report that communication service providers are strongly opposed to intercept being admissible in court. Can you tell us why that is and should their agreement be a precondition to relaxing the ban?

Sir Swinton Thomas: I visited all the major telephone companies and internet companies at least once a year and more often with some of them, as was necessary. There are two aspects. The companies themselves who are extremely co-operative in providing the material which is needed for the intercept are very concerned about their capacity and the way in which they go about dealing with these issues being made public. There is probably a commercial aspect to that which is difficult for me to deal with in public. I dare say that if you have a chairman of a company dealing in communications, he would say, "Quite frankly, we would prefer that our customers did not know that we were passing all your calls across to a government agency" [my emphasis], which is a fairly natural response. A more important one is that they think - and I think they are right - that if there was a change in the law all the ways in which they go about providing material would be open to examination and cross-examination, which is something they do not want to happen. Members of the general public probably know very little about it. [...]
Is the main issue regarding use of intercepts in court really that it's not good for business if we, the public, know that our calls are passed to NTAC, GCHQ or a similar agency?

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