Prime numbers —you know they make sense
The UK government has just published its new internet monitoring bill.
Apparently one of the great concessions is they aren't going to outlaw any encryption they can't automatically decrypt. This is not a concession: someone has sat down with them and explained how RSA and elliptic curve crypto work, and said "unless you have a ban on prime numbers > 256 bits, banning encryption is meaningless". What makes the government think they have any control over what at-rest encryption code gets built into phone operating systems or between mobile apps written in California. They didn't have a chance of making this work; all they'd do is be laughed at from abroad while crippling UK developers. As an example, if releasing software with strong encryption were illegal, I'd be unable to make releases of Hadoop —simply due to HDFS encryption.
You may as well assume that nation states already do have the abilities to read encrypted messages (somehow), and deal with that by "not becoming an individual threat to a nation state". Same goes for logging of HTTP/S requests. If someone really wanted to, they could. Except that until now the technical abilities of various countries had to be kept a secret, because once some fact about breaking RC4 or DH forward encryption becomes known, software changes.
What is this communications bill trying to do then? Not so much legalise what's possible today, but give the local police forces access to similar datasets for everyday use. That's probably an unexpected side-effect of the Snowden revelations: police forces round the country saying "ooh, we'd like to know that information", and this time demanding access to it in a way that they can be open about in court.
As it stands, it's mostly moot. Google knows where you were, what your search terms were and have all your emails, not just the metadata. My TV vendor claims the right to log what I watched on TV and ship it abroad, with no respect for safe-harbour legislation. As for our new car, it's got a modem built in and if it wants to report home not just where we've been driving but whether the suspension has been stressed, ABS and stability control engaged, or even what radio channel we were on, I would have no idea whatsoever. The fact that you have to start worrying about the INFOSEC policies of your car manufacturer shows that knowing which web sites you viewed is becoming less and less relevant.
Even so, the plan to record 12 months of every IP address's HTTP(S) requests, (and presumably other TCP connections) is a big step change, and not one I'm happy about. It's not that I have any specific need to hide from the state —and if I did, I'd try tunnelling through DNS, using Tor, VPNing abroad, or some other mechanism. VPNs are how you uprate any mobile application to be private —and as they work over mobile networks, deliver privacy on the move. I'm sure I could ask a US friend to set up a raspberry pi with PPTP in their home, just as we do for BBC iPlayer access abroad. And therein lies a flaw: if you really want to identify significant threats to the state and its citizens, you don't go on about how you are logging all TCP connections, as that just motivates people to go for VPNs. So we move the people that are most dangerous underground, while creating a dataset more of interest to the MPAA than anyone else.
[Photo: police out on Stokes Croft or Royal Wedding Day after the "Second Tesco Riot"]