Three of the UK’s four big mobile phone networks have made customers’ call records available at the click of a mouse to police forces through automated systems, a Guardian investigation has revealed.
EE, Vodafone and Three operate automated systems that hand over customer data “like a cash machine”,as one phone company employee described it.
Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, a transparency watchdog, said: “If companies are providing communications data to law enforcement on automatic pilot, it’s as good as giving police direct access [to individual phone bills].”
O2, by contrast, is the only major phone network requiring staff to review all police information requests, the company said.
Mobile operators must by law store a year of call records of all of their customers, which police forces and other agencies can then access without a warrant using the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).
Ripa is the interception law giving authority to much of GCHQ’s mass surveillance. The law was again under the spotlight recently after it was used to identify sources of journalists from at least two national newspapers, the Sun and the Mail on Sunday.
Documents from software providers and conversations with mobile companies staff reveal how automatic this system has become, with the “vast majority” of records demanded by police delivered through automated systems, without the involvement of any phone company staff.
The Home Office argues communications data is “a critical tool” and its use of Ripa was “necessary and proportionate”.
Despite politicians’ assurances that the UK laws requiring phone companies to keep records would not create a state database of private communications, critics argue that the practice comes very close to doing so. King warned that “widespread, automatic access of this nature” meant the UK telecoms industry “essentially already provides law enforcement with the joined-up databases they claimed they didn’t have when pushing for the ‘snooper’s charter’.”
In the automated systems used by the phone companies, police officers seeking phone records must gain permission from another officer on the same force, who then enters the details into an online form. That mirrors the US Prism programme, revealed by Edward Snowden, which in effect created a backdoor into the products of US tech corporations. In the vast majority of cases, the information is then delivered without any further human role.
daily alternative | alternative news – EE, Vodafone and Three give police mobile call records at click of a mouse
Microsoft Admits Windows 10 Automatic Spying Cannot Be Stopped
Last week changes to the Windows 10 upgrade path mean it is going to become increasingly difficult for any non-techy users to avoid being pushed to Microsoft MSFT +0.00%’s new operating system. But given Windows 10 is better than Windows 7 and Windows 8, why would that be a problem? Because of policies like this…
Speaking to PC World, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Joe Belfiore explained that Windows 10 is constantly tracking how it operates and how you are using it and sending that information back to Microsoft by default. More importantly he also confirmed that, despite offering some options to turn elements of tracking off, core data collection simply cannot be stopped:
“In the cases where we’ve not provided options, we feel that those things have to do with the health of the system,” he said. “In the case of knowing that our system that we’ve created is crashing, or is having serious performance problems, we view that as so helpful to the ecosystem and so not an issue of personal privacy, that today we collect that data so that we make that experience better for everyone.”
This backs up detailed data that some had chosen to dismiss as conspiracy theories.
Windows 10 has great potential, but aggressive update and user tracking policies. Image credit: Microsoft
Still, whether or not you agree with Belfiore’s standpoint that this doesn’t invade user privacy, it does seem strange that it has taken Microsoft so long to come clean and admit core Windows 10 background data collection processes cannot be stopped. Instead it gave the impression that turning off all user accessible spying options in Windows 10 settings would provide owners with full privacy – that’s tantamount to spying.
To his credit, Belfiore does recognise the controversial nature of this decision and stresses that:
“We’re going to continue to listen to what the broad public says about these decisions, and ultimately our goal is to balance the right thing happening for the most people – really, for everyone – with complexity that comes with putting in a whole lot of control.”
Interestingly Belfiore himself won’t be around to oversee this as he is about to take a year long sabbatical. When he comes back, however, I suspect this issue will still be raging as Windows and Devices Group head Terry Myerson recently confirmed Windows 10 Enterprise users will be able to disable every single aspect of Microsoft data collection.
This comes in combination with Windows 10 Pro and Enterprise users’ ability to permanently disable automatic updates which are forced upon consumers and shows the growing divide between how Microsoft is treating consumers versus corporations.
So how concerned should users be about Windows 10’s default data collection policies? I would say very.
By default Windows 10 Home is allowed to control your bandwidth usage, install any software it wants whenever it wants (without providing detailed information on what these updates do), display ads in the Start Menu (currently it has been limited to app advertisements), send your hardware details and any changes you make to Microsoft and even log your browser history and keystrokes which the Windows End User Licence Agreement (EULA) states you allow Microsoft to use for analysis.
The good news: even if Belfiore states you cannot switch off everything, editing your privacy settings will disable the worst of these. To find them open the Start menu > Settings > Privacy.
daily alternative | alternative news – Microsoft Admits Windows 10 Automatic Spying Cannot Be Stopped
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