Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Finally, some high-level UK debate on Internet surveillance

You wait nine months for some UK political debate on the mass Internet surveillance by the National Security Agency and GCHQ revealed by Edward Snowden, then two speeches come along at once...

This morning I went to listen to Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister, give his first major speech on the issue (there is a summary in the Guardian). It was thoughtful, and went into much more depth than is typical for top-level political debate on these matters.

Having given up waiting for their coalition partners, the Lib Dems are proposing some immediate changes: reform of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which should be chaired by an opposition Member of Parliament and hold its meetings in public whenever possible; allowing appeals from the Investigatory Powers Tribunal to the English courts; and publishing an annual government transparency report that gives much greater detail about state access to Internet communications and "metadata".

The deputy prime minister talked at length about the controversial "bulk access" to large amounts of Internet traffic that GCHQ has under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Unlike most other politicians, and certainly unlike former GCHQ directors I have heard speak on the subject, he argued that such large-scale access is not automatically acceptable so long as there are strict rules within NSA/GCHQ on access to the "collected" data.

Collection itself is intrusive (as the European Court of Human Rights has long recognised, in cases such as Leander v Sweden and Amann v Switzerland), and should only happen when necessary and proportionate. Indeed, as President Obama's review panel said:

"Although we might be safer if the government had ready access to a massive storehouse of information about every detail of our lives, the impact of such a program on the quality of life and on individual freedom would simply be too great. And this is especially true in light of the alternative measures available to the government... We recommend that the US Government should examine the feasibility of creating software that would allow the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies more easily to conduct targeted information acquisition rather than bulk-data collection."
Meanwhile yesterday, shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper gave a shorter speech to Demos. She acknowledged the deficiencies of the existing legal regime, and that the Intelligence and Security Committee should be chaired by an opposition MP to give it more credible independence from the government, and given permanent technological expertise. She also said that the Communications Data Bill previously proposed by the government was "far too widely drawn, giving the Home Secretary unprecedented future powers, and with too few checks and balances, and has rightly been stopped."

There seems to be a developing consensus between the two parties. Yvette Cooper has called for much more public debate about Internet surveillance, echoing Nick Clegg's concern about a loss of public confidence in the intelligence agencies. Both want stronger oversight by converting the existing interception and intelligence commissioners - retired judges  - whose work is largely unknown by the public, into a higher-profile Inspector General. And both recognise that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act now needs changing, in areas such as stronger safeguards for "metadata", and looking again at the broad powers given for GCHQ surveillance of "external" communications that start and/or end outside the British Isles (i.e. most Internet communications).

The deputy PM has asked the MoD's external think-tank, the Royal United Services Institute, to convene an Obama-style review panel to report back on these issues after the next election.  By then, as Clegg said, there will be irresistible pressure for Parliament to update the UK legal framework to better reflect the realities of today's Internet - and perhaps a Labour-Lib Dem coalition that would make this happen. Hopefully those Conservative MPs such as David Davis, who have played a strong role in the public debate so far, will also be able to persuade their colleagues in government of the necessity of reform.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Could a cyber-attack "fatally compromise" the UK military?

The House of Commons Defence Committee has published a report on Defence and Cyber-Security, which concludes:
The evidence we received leaves us concerned that with the Armed Forces now so dependent on information and communications technology, should such systems suffer a sustained cyber attack, their ability to operate could be fatally compromised... The cyber threat is, like some other emerging threats, one which has the capacity to evolve with almost unimaginable speed and with serious consequences for the nation's security. The Government needs to put in place - as it has not yet done - mechanisms, people, education, skills, thinking and policies which take into account both the opportunities and the vulnerabilities which cyber presents. It is time the Government approached this subject with vigour.
I think this conclusion may be overstated. In a time of serious budgetary cutbacks, the government has committed serious new money — £650m — to cybersecurity activities (although this may have been concentrated too heavily at GCHQ). A small amount of that is going towards Academic Centres of Excellence in Cybersecurity Research, one of which is at Oxford. The report fails to draw an adequate distinction between risks to defence systems and broader national security. And while information security is not developing nearly quickly enough in critical national infrastructure, we are not yet at the point at which likely adversaries would have the motivation and capability to cause serious damage to property or loss of life via these vulnerabilities.

The conclusions Peter Sommer and I reached last year for the OECD in our report on global systemic cybersecurity risk still hold: this is a long-term planning concern for government, not a short-term panic. I've made these points in interviews this afternoon for the World Service and BBC Scotland.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Confusion reigns over UK Internet freedom

The UK's Director of Public Prosecutions this morning published an extremely sensible statement after deciding not to prosecute Daniel Thomas, the author of a homophobic tweet about Olympic divers Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield:
“This was, in essence, a one-off offensive Twitter message, intended for family and friends, which made its way into the public domain. It was not intended to reach Mr Daley or Mr Waterfield, it was not part of a campaign, it was not intended to incite others and Mr Thomas removed it reasonably swiftly and has expressed remorse. Against that background, the Chief Crown Prosecutor for Wales, Jim Brisbane, has concluded that on a full analysis of the context and circumstances in which this single message was sent, it was not so grossly offensive that criminal charges need to be brought."
This was a positive application of the Human Rights Act and European human rights jurisprudence to a tweet that qualified for the Communications Act 2003 offence of a "grossly offensive" communication sent using a public electronic network. This offence clearly needs reviewing, as the DPP suggests:
"Social media is a new and emerging phenomenon raising difficult issues of principle, which have to be confronted not only by prosecutors but also by others including the police, the courts and service providers. The fact that offensive remarks may not warrant a full criminal prosecution does not necessarily mean that no action should be taken. In my view, the time has come for an informed debate about the boundaries of free speech in an age of social media."
Douwe Korff and I suggested a possible approach in a report for the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights last year.

The message does not seem to have reached the Greater Manchester police, who have this afternoon arrested a man over a Facebook page praising the alleged murderer of two officers. While repellent, is this really their highest priority right now? There are concerns that the police press conference (as well as a statement by the prime minister) may already have prejudiced the forthcoming murder trial.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Can the world agree on free speech principles?

Prof. Timothy Garton Ash and his team at St Antony's College have just launched their fascinating new free speech project, FreeSpeechDebate:

Ten draft principles for global free speech are laid out, together with explanations and case studies – all for debate. Prominent figures from diverse cultures, faiths and political tendencies are interviewed and asked to comment, through video, audio and text. We have Indian novelist Arundhati Roy on the media and national security in India; Iranian cleric Mohsen Kadivar on Islam and the criminalisation of insults to religion; Chinese academic Yan Xuetong on universal values; former head of the Formula One association Max Mosley on privacy with more to come… The entire editorial content is carefully translated into 13 languages, covering more than 80% of the world's internet users, by native-speakers of those languages (mainly graduate students at Oxford University). Anyone can then contribute to the online discussion in these or any other widely used languages, and there is a facility to give a rough translation of every user-generated comment into most languages using machine translation.

I have greatly enjoyed being an adviser to the project. Here is the two-part interview I recently did with Prof. Ash:

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Giving evidence to Privacy and Injunctions Committee

Yesterday I gave evidence to Parliament's Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions. I tried to explain the difficulties in stopping a specific piece of information appearing anywhere on the Internet, particularly in user-generated content and on social media platforms:

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Internet freedom: EU v US

A couple of weeks back, I was honoured to give the second seminar in George Washington Law School's distinguished speaker series on Internet Freedom and Human Rights. I discussed Europe's approach to this topic, on which there has been virtual silence in comparison to the debate stimulated by the US State Department.

GW has now posted a video of my talk. Thanks again to Professors Nunziato and Carillo for organising such an enjoyable visit.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

ENISA reform at the European Parliament

This afternoon I'm giving evidence to the European Parliament's industry committee at an expert hearing on the future of the European Network and Information Security Agency. Here is the text of my prepared remarks:

ENISA's role in light of current systemic cybersecurity risks

Last year, with my colleague Prof. Peter Sommer, I carried out a study for the OECD on “Reducing global systemic cybersecurity risk”. We assessed the likelihood and potential consequences of catastrophic failures of information system security, comparing them to other potential “global shocks” such as an international flu pandemic or further financial crisis. Our conclusion was that in the medium term, few single foreseeable cyber-related events have the capacity to propagate onwards and become a full-scale “global shock”.

This does not mean that individual cyber-related events could not generate a great deal of harm and financial suffering; indeed there are many examples where this has already happened. And European societies are becoming increasingly dependent on the availability of the Internet and related communications and computing infrastructures.

Bodies such as ENISA can play in key role in reducing these threats, and ensuring that in the longer term they do not develop into catastrophic global risks. Responses to such shocks limited to the level of the nation state are likely to be inadequate. Coordinated international activity is required, with all the associated problems of reaching agreement and then acting in concert. The European Union has a clear advantage in facilitating and coordinating Member State activity in this field.

The European Commission’s proposal for a regulation concerning ENISA contains a number of measures matching our own recommendations to the OECD, especially in supporting the Digital Agenda for Europe. I want to highlight three key areas: supporting the European Forum of Member States and European Public Private Partnership for Resilience; facilitating EU-wide cooperation and preparedness; and addressing market failures in security.

First: supporting the Member State forum and Public-Private Partnership.

Attacks on systems connected to the public Internet can originate from anywhere on that network. Vulnerabilities in software developed in one country and installed in a second can be exploited remotely from a third. Failures in critical information infrastructures in one nation can cascade into dependent systems elsewhere.

Member States and the private sector need to coordinate their efforts to enhance cyber security levels, develop safe and trusted methods for information sharing about vulnerabilities, block and deter attacks, and improve the resilience of critical infrastructure. Officials will need, if they are not doing so already, to plot out the dependencies of key central government and critical infrastructure systems. They will need to identify points at which computer and communications facilities may become overloaded during catastrophes and arrange for the provision of extra resource and resilience. They will also need to create contingency plans should large important systems fail. ENISA can support all of these efforts through its role in the European Public-Private Partnership for Resilience.

A further role is horizon scanning for future threats arising from changes in the broad cyber world. For example, Member States need to carefully consider the implications of outsourcing and cloud-based systems for the resilience of the services they provide, identifying any new interdependencies that result and how they would deal with catastrophic failure of third-party services. Contracts and Service Level Agreements need to include provisions on availability and liability for security breaches, as well as the geographic location of sensitive data and the level of access of third-party staff. ENISA has published a number of useful reports examining these issues in the last few years.

By procuring and operating more secure systems, governments will reduce the risk of exploitation and failure of their own critical services. They will also incentivise software companies, Internet Service Providers and other companies to create more secure products that can also be sold to the private sector.

All of these activities would benefit from cross-EU planning and support from ENISA in the European Forum of Member States.

Second: facilitating European cooperation and preparedness.

Most of the Member States now have effective government and industry Computer Emergency Response Teams. These CERTs meet and share best practice through groups such as the Forum for Internet Response and Security Teams. This also allows computer security engineers in different countries to get to meet each other and build informal relationships of trust. Such social contacts can, in an emergency, help resolve problems more quickly than via the official formal structures. ENISA could usefully support the work of such groups.

Just as has become common in the financial sector, regulators should conduct regular “stress test” exercises to measure vulnerabilities and ensure the resilience of infrastructure in the face of attack. ENISA can facilitate the European components of the international exercises that are necessary to fully test responses to global threats.

Finally: addressing market failures in information security.

Unlike much 20th-century critical national infrastructure, the Internet is almost entirely developed and managed by private companies. In the long run, the most important role of ENISA (and EU Network and Information Security policy) is to support policymakers in modulating the incentive structures that are causing market actors to under-protect systems. The technology is available to build a much more secure Internet. The key question to ask is why it is not being deployed, particularly in end-user system software.

Companies managing critical infrastructure have incentives to maintain continuity of service to their customers, but without some government intervention they may not be willing to commit resources to protecting wider interests of society. These include public confidence promoted by the general availability of shelter, electricity and gas, and telecommunications. Governments can use legislation, licensing and regulation to impose standards for security and resilience upon operators of Critical Infrastructure. This should become a core concern for regulatory agencies in the water, power, telecommunications, financial services and healthcare sectors.

ENISA can act as a centre of expertise to support the Member States and their critical infrastructure regulators, particularly in setting baseline security standards and modulating market incentives to encourage resilience. It can also usefully act as a centre of expertise supporting the Commission and groups such as the Article 29 Working Party of data protection authorities. This expertise is crucial to the success of highly technology-dependent policy goals such as the protection of Europeans’ fundamental rights to privacy and data protection.

If we are to make the Commission’s plans for “privacy by design” effective, it would be logical to task ENISA with developing urgent plans to ensure suitable standards and infrastructure are deployed, making use of the latest discoveries from EU research programmes. No other agency or regulator has a sufficiently technical EU-wide mandate to overcome the formidable structural obstacles that have so far prevented this from happening.

To conclude: ENISA clearly has a key role to play in the development of a secure and resilient European information society that protects fundamental rights. I can find much to support in the Commission’s proposal to develop its mandate.

Thank you for your attention.