Powers to Investigate

· digital rights privacy internet
This blog post is more than two years old. It is preserved here in the hope that it is useful to someone, but please be aware that links may be broken and that opinions expressed here may not reflect my current views. If this is a technical article, it may no longer reflect current best practice.

The Communication Data Bill was draft legislation introduced first in May 2012. It sought to compel ISPs to store details of communications usage so that it can later be used for law enforcement purposes. In 2013 the passage of this bill into law had been blocked and the bill was dead.

In 2014 we saw the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014 appear. This seemed to be in response to the Data Retention Directive being successfully challenged at the European Court of Justice by Digital Rights Ireland on human rights grounds, with a judgment given in 2014. It essentially reimplemented the Data Retention Directive along with a whole load of other nasty things.

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act contained a sunset clause with a date set for 2016. This brings us to the Investigatory Powers Bill which it looks will be passing into law shortly.

Among a range of nasty powers, this legislation will be able to force ISPs to record metadata about every website you visit, every connection you make to a server on the Internet. This is sub-optimal for the privacy minded, with my primary concern being that this is a treasure trove of data and it’s going to be abused by someone. It’s going to be too much for someone to resist.

The existence of this power in the bill seemed to confuse the House of Lords:

It is not for me to explain why the Government want in the Bill a power that currently does not exist, because internet connection records do not exist, and which the security services say they do not want but which the noble and learned Lord says might be needed in the future. It is not for me to justify this power; I am saying to the House why I do not believe it is justified. The noble and learned Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made the point that this is an existing power, but how can you have an existing power to acquire something that will not exist until the Bill is enacted?

– Lord Paddick (link)

Of course, the internet connection records are meaningless when your traffic is routed via a proxy or VPN, and there is a Kickstarter in progress that I would love to succeed: OnionDSL.

The premise of OnionDSL is that instead of having an IPv4/IPv6 connection to the Internet, you join a private network that does not provide any routing to the global Internet and instead provides only a Tor bridge. I cannot think of anything that I do from home that I cannot do via Tor and have been considering switching to Qubes OS as the operating system on my day-to-day laptop to allow me to direct basically everything through Tor.

The idea of provisioning a non-IP service via DSL is not new to me, I’ve come across it before with cjdns which provides an encrypted IPv6 network using public key cryptography for network address allocation and a distributed hash table for routing. Peering between cjdns nodes can be performed over Ethernet and cjdns over Ethernet could be provisioned in place of the traditional PPP over Ethernet (PPPoE) to provide access directly to cjdns without providing any routing to the global Internet.

If OnionDSL is funded, I think it’s very likely I would be considering becoming a customer. (Assuming the government doesn’t attempt to also outlaw Tor).

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