Lee - what some parts of the government are saying they need is access to the communications record of who you have communicated with online and when, going back up to 12 months. That isn't available for the post - you can't go to the Post Office and say "tell me the name and address of everyone Lee has written to or received a letter from in the past 12 months".
Following the Queen’s Speech it is becoming a little clearer – although only a little clearer – what it is that some parts of the Home Office want to achieve by pushing for the Communications Capability Development Programme (CCDP, aka Online Snooping Charter).
One scenario is this: the law enforcement authorities start having solid grounds for suspecting someone is up to no good. Currently, they can then get access to the history of that person’s phone calls – who they rung and when from their landline or mobile. Getting such retrospective data for some forms of internet-based communications is possible, albeit requiring convoluted legal routes (e.g. via an international legal mutual aid treaty to get information from US-based Facebook). But for other sorts of online communication such history records are not available at all, and this is something those pushing the CCDP want to change.
There is, however, a problem. I’ve been talking to a range of communications and security experts and there is a technology which will floor even the most extreme and extensive of the proposals that have been floated.
Although not many people talk about it, the technology – known to insiders as LPTRM – has already been used in some cases of terrorism, by some paedophiles and also by organised crime gangs. One reason for LPTRM’s popularity in those circles is that it is an extremely reliable and easy to use technology. It can be used with a wide range of encryption – including the equivalent of one-time pads. In the absence of human error or similar, such encryption cannot be cracked by even GCHQ and the NSA combined.
What’s more, LPTRM is cheap, using component parts widely available in all high streets and even most homes. It relies on items that can easily and quickly be disguised as having an innocent use. Even more troubling, those using LPTRM do not leave behind records of who has communicated with whom and when.
Let us hope that if CCDP goes ahead, no-one new switches to LPTRM to side-step it.
What is LPTRM? Letters Posted Through the Royal Mail.