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Investigatory Powers Bill

Terrorist groups, Spies and Lord William Hague

Terrorist groups acquiring the cyber capability to bring major cities to a standstill

Terrorists and rogue states are gaining the capability to bring a major city to a standstill with the click of a button, the Director of GCHQ has warned.

In a rare public appearance, Robert Hannigan said the risk to cities like London would increase as more physical objects, such as cars and household appliances, are connected online – the so-called “internet of things”.

Speaking as the controversial Investigatory Powers Bill passed its third reading in the House of Commons, Mr Hannigan also defended the surveillance of internet activity by the intelligence services, saying seven attacks against the UK had been foiled in the last 18 months due to bulk data analysis.

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Britain's spies to fight our enemies in the digital age

The House of Commons has passed landmark legislation to enable the Alan Turings of the 21st century to continue their intelligence gathering, cryptanalysis and code-breaking essential for safeguarding our security in the digital age.  

Whilst today dots and dashes have been replaced by domain names and IP addresses, the same principles endure: our intelligence and security agencies depend upon the acquisition and use of bulk data – information acquired in large volumes and used subject to special restrictions – to acquire vital and unique intelligence that they cannot obtain by any other means. They need the power to intercept messages and they will not be able to do their job without contextual intelligence, provided today in the form of internet connection records.

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Surveillance forestalls more 'draconian' police powers

Lord William Hague has predicted that Western societies will enact laws and regulations against unbreakable encryption – while conceding that the technology has always existed.

The former UK foreign secretary, who is also a historian and author of a biography of Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, told delegates at the Infosec trade show that a book-based cypher written by an 18th century politician remains unbroken.

“Unless we know the book it’s based on,” or can find example of the same code being used in other messages, then it will remain unbroken, he said.

Technology firms need to cooperate or else law enforcement will lose the ability to investigate serious crimes, including tax evasion, people trafficking and terrorism, according to Lord Hague. This is because criminals and terrorists use communication technologies also used by mainstream consumers such as iMessage and WhatsApp – those are Lord Hague’s examples.

Unless government and their security agencies retain the ability to spot malicious activities through electronic intelligence, restrictions on civil liberties would have to be more “severe and draconian”, he argued.

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