Watching the debate yesterday did raise a few interesting points. One is that it is taking a long time to get in to place something to fill a supposed "gap" in logging of communications data (hence the proposed amendment to re-introduce the Data Communications Bill). Another is that a key problem with the snoopers charter is that it tries to be far too broad in order to allow for new technology without having to keep making new laws. This means far too much ends up in scope.
However, being in technology, I (and many others) can see that even with such wide scope it is already out of date!
It relies on some basic concepts which are changing, and have changed in some cases :-
That there is a communications provider, and one that is in the UK
The bill takes steps to impose conditions on communications providers. It would be impractical to try and impose these on every end user, and would also defeat the point if those end users are the very people you are trying to monitor.
The problem is that there are increasingly not a communications provider at all. In most cases there is, at a low level (copper wires, radio waves) a provider, but they are not providing the communications that you want to monitor. It is a bit like modems - the only communications data for any Internet access back then would be that you called your ISP for X minutes. Well, the Internet is the medium by which we communicate now, and you can use layers and layers. A communication (a message) may be sent as part of the content of something done on a web site, so all you log is that someone accessed the web site, and not that using that web site they sent a message to someone else. In that case the web site operator is a communications provider of a sort, but may not be in the UK. Things like TOR complicate the matter even more - its is a "network" with no providers.
But there are things where there is no communications provider even at the low level - mesh networks. With so many people owning wifi equipment it becomes possible to create networks that work via your neighbours wifi and create a whole Internet with no actual "provider" involved.
So making laws that impact communications providers only really works whilst they exist at the level you wish to monitor.
That there is a sender and a recipient
This is a pretty fundamental assumption in the legislation, and already is not always the case. A tweet is public, and whilst people may follow some people, they can just see tweets anyway and search for them anyway. If I post a tweet, who is the recipient? Do we try to work out who it was aimed at in some way, or just say it was sent to 1000 people (my followers). What if it is then retweeted to a million people - who sent the "message" and who was it to?
That the communication is a message
Again, this is ingrained in the legislation - but a communication could perhaps be clicking "like" on a FaceBook post. Again, who is that communicating to, and what is the message?
That you can separate envelope from content
This is also fundamental as the government quite rightly feel that snooping on everyone's content (opening everyone's letters) would not be acceptable.
The problem is that it is no longer easy or even possible to tell the content from the addressing information. What is the "content" of clicking "like"? What if I tweet and include the string @xkcd in that "message"? Is that "content", being within my tweet, or is it the address, being that it would be shown to Randall if he ever logged in to twitter.
There is legislation saying, for example, that no part of the content of an email shall be logged, but they want logging of the addressing. So if I included in the content of the email my email address does that then stop that address being logged, as it is also a part of the content?
Even talking of "weblogs" they are specifically talking of URL up to first slash (which is entertaining as that is "http:/") but they basically mean logging the hostname part. That is fine until you realise that lots of web sites are in fact Facebook.com/somecompany, or someproxy.com/realwebsite, so you are not in fact logging the "site" being visited. Future changes to https may ensure that even the hostname cannot be logged.
So, I suggest that even now, the snooper's charter is already out of date for its stated purpose (as well as being technically impossible and immoral)
Update: The four horsemen (I mean Lords) are trying again http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-31062757
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