Will Investigatory Powers Bill apply to all those who are tracking your movements?

Those who drool over the wonders of Big Data and Internet of Things should take a look at the video of the “Looking for You” campaign piloted by Battersea Dogs Home at Westfield Shopping Centre. Those who stop to look at a cute stray dog are given a leaflet which contains a tracking chip. Display adverts around the centre then show the dog following them or popping in front of them looking appealingly. Now look at the plans of Pernod Ricard for “intelligent bottles”  Will GCHQ be able to follow James Bond by the empties, without the need for a chip implant, let alone “smart blood“? And what do we think of the growing attempts to stop us (and our children who are more likely to have discovered that it makes their smartphones faster and more usable) from using adblocking software. This also helps put the BCS consultation into context. The announcement is anodyne but there is real anger among those professionals who understand what is happening and why. My sister-in-law is very happy at being able to track her wandering dog on the Internet (after one of his periodic “escapes”) to see whether he is one his way home or genuinely lost. The idea that a stranger could be similarly tracking the movements of her niece’s Barbie Doll would fill her with horror.

This morning I learned, in the margins of the Digital Leaders “Digital DNA” conference, that it is no longer possible to store phone numbers in the sim card of the latest android phones. They have to be backed up in the Google Cloud, i.e. become Google’s “property”, to be sent back to the USA. Given that US anti-surveillance protections do not apply to “foreigners” I wonder why we should be so concerned about the governance provisions of the Investigatory Powers Bill as they apply to UK security and law enforcement when our phones are reporting back to those in Mountain View or Cupertino whose main concern appears to be that they should not have to share what they know about US citizens (not us, we are “foreigners”) with Fort Meade.

One of the EURIM achievements of which I was proudest, (none of the other players even recognised its importance), was the rewrite of the statutory instrument covering the “lawful interception of business communications” (part of the implementation of RIPA), including the notice that had to be given to customers that their communications might be recorded. That is why the planned Digital Policy Alliance (the current reincarnation of EURIM) exercise on the Internet of Things (albeit a new term is needed) is so important (DPA reaches the parts others do not even think about). That exercise will be focused on the positives (e.g the actions necessary to help the UK lead the world into telecare, smart buildings or transport) but the negatives also need to be defused. [Contact them, not me, for details – this is one for the younger generation. My son is helping organise the exercise and we have reached the stage where I listen to him more than he listens to me. For those who know me that is an “interesting” change!!!]   

I would, however, like to belatedly add to my previous blog on the consultations on the Investigatory Powers Bill, the need to not only recognise that it applies to the tracking operations of Apple and Google (and all the other adware and spyware operators whose bloatware is clogging the Internet and slowing response times), but the importance of giving us all informed and genuine (not forced) choice as to whether we want our “communications data” to be recorded in the unsafe (to foreigners) harbours of the USA. This happen to be another area where the Digital Policy Alliance, with Malcolm Harbour chairing the relevant working party himself, is at the heart of organising well-informed, well-targeted, balanced and timely inputs to both UK and EU policy. I am now personally focussed on socially inclusive broadband and skills, where we I believe we have just crossed a watershed – but that will be the subject for my next blog.