Mobile operators in the UK could be obligated to provide the government with access to citizens’ data “in real time”, according to a new draft proposal.
A government document leaked by the UK’s Open Rights Group outlined a plan for telecoms operators and ISPs to assist the country’s surveillance services by providing access to a person’s private communications within a single day.
Under the plans, the government would have “the capability to simultaneously intercept” communications for one in 10,000 people at any one time.
In effect, this would require operators and ISPs to build backdoor access to encrypted messages, a privacy tool used by many technology companies, including instant messaging platform WhatsApp.
End-to-end encryption scrambles a message through the network so it can only be read by the person it is intended for, which helps counter the threat of cyber attacks.
However, governments around the world including the US and UK have recently called on technology companies to allow backdoor access to encrypted forms of communication, following reports the private services had been used by people posing a threat to national security.
The UK government’s proposal said telecoms operators should: “provide and maintain the capability to disclose, where practicable, the content of communications and secondary data in an intelligible form”.
This would also include the removal of: “electronic protection applied by or on behalf of the telecommunications operator to the communications or data, or to permit the person to whom the warrant is addressed to remove such electronic protection”.
The Register reported the draft paper had only been provided to a select few companies, most ISPs and telcos, requesting a four week consultation, before being leaked to the Open Rights Group.
Before the proposed rules could be passed into law, they would require approval by the country’s Houses of Parliament before being passed into law.
The consultation period is open until 19 May.