Shedding light on the Intercept Modernisation Programme

Over the course of the Summer, several news sources have reported a radical new surveillance plan afoot at the Home Office, dubbed the “Intercept Modernisation Programme”. Starting with The Times, who broke the story in May, reports have claimed that as part of this programme a new national database would be created containing the electronic communications data of the entire population.

Despite extensive press coverage since then, the Home Office have remained tight-lipped. The Communications Data Bill, which is on the Draft Legislative Programme for the next Parliamentary session, will, they say, have more details of the proposed scheme. According to a written answer submitted to the Earl of Northesk:

“the objective of the Intercept Modernisation Programme (IMP) is to maintain the UK’s lawful intercept and communications data capabilities in the changing communications environment. It is a cross-government programme, led by the Home Office, to ensure that our capability to lawfully intercept and exploit data when fighting crime and terrorism is not lost. It was established in response to my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s national security remit in 2006.”

And it looks like the Home Office have already been recruiting civil servants to help communicate with “stakeholders” about the scheme. This (Goggle cached) job description reveals that:

“The IMP has been set up to deliver a programme which will maintain the UK’s capability to obtain and exploit Lawful Intercept (LI) product and Communications Data (CD) during and beyond the change over from circuit-switched to IP based networks. The programme is a major, multi year undertaking incorporating the efforts of a broad community of stakeholders. It will also be utilising a range of new technologies and techniques.”

But will the IMP include a centralised database? Certainly the Information Commissioner felt moved enough by the speculation to warn [pdf] that:

“If the intention is to bring all mobile and internet records together under one system, this would give us serious concerns and may well be a step too far. We are not aware of any justification for the state to hold every UK citizen’s phone and internet records. We have real doubts that such a measure can be justified, or is proportionate or desirable.”

ORG decided to test our much-fought for Freedom of Information laws to see if they could help us find out more. You can read the FOI request we’ve sent to the Home Office here (with thanks to mySociety and their excellent new FOI tool WhatDoTheyKnow?). We’ll keep you posted when we receive a response. In the meantime, our campaign resources wiki page will stay updated with any emerging news of the scheme.