Predictions 2010: A Different Perspective

December 30, 2009

The Interception Modernisation Program, or IMP, hopes to address the problems law enforcement and the agencies have as we move away from using analogue telephones as our primary means of communication towards a great variety of Internet-based services all of them with their own protocols and associated difficulties in monitoring.  Summer 2009’s attempt by the Home Office to consult on reform was a failure because officials had underestimated the difficulties.  Hitherto CSPs have simply provided the authorities, against an appropriate authorisation, with material they already held.  Any new scheme will expect them to analyse their customer’s clickstream against legally defined criteria. Does the technology exist?  How much will it cost – and who will pay?  Who will keep up-to-date with the new protocols? What changes will be required in the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 – and what will be the quality of oversight against abuse? The underlying requirements of the fuzz and the spooks won’t go away – and after the election they’ll be lobbying all over again. Let’s hope we have a full public debate about how much power they actually need – and who will fund. 

Behavioural Advertising is important to ISPs and web-vendors because,  by examining a customer’s web surfing they can direct highly-focussed advertising at them.  It’s the heart of the Google commercial model. Phorm’s attempt to offer services to UK ISPs appears to have foundered on legal issues – privacy management,  informed consent,  interception,  even computer misuse.  But the prospects of considerable financial success for those who get the formula right are such that others will try their luck – and the privacy campaigners will be on the alert. 

Work currently under way aims to improve and regulate the quality of forensic science provided to the UK courts.  The Law Commission has consulted on admissibility tests in which a judge might act as a gate-keeper and the Forensic Science Regulator is advocating a regime to inhibit labs from using under-tested methodologies.  But in going for a one size fits all approach to all branches of forensic science there’s a considerable risk for computer forensics.  Rates of change in ICT – with which digital forensics specialists have to keep up as criminals exploit the latest developments – are greater than the speed with which new items of knowledge can be peer-reviewed and tools developed and tested. Difficult discussions will be needed to ensure that the courts are not prevented from considering the digital footprints that may be being created by rapidly evolving new ICT services. 

On a related matter, the Ministry of Justice and Legal Services Commission hope to reduce the cost of legal aid overall, not only in respect of solicitors and barristers, but experts as well.   But with 6-8 month delays in the routine examination of computers seized by the police, we don’t have enough computer forensic experts willing to operate in the publicly-funded sector.  If fees for expert witnesses are forcibly reduced, the individuals involved will move across to more lucrative civil and private work, or exit forensics altogether in favour of jobs in computer support and security. 

(These predictions are provided with all the authority of one who in 1985 explained to {Ted Nelson:} that his vision of hypertext-linked publicly-accessible databases was too idealistic to succeed in a commercial context.) See