Telcos should prepare customers for 'price hike' of a mass-surveilance future, warns academic

By Peter Gothard
10 Jul 2014 View Comments

The government's data retention bill – which is at this very minute being sped through parliament aimed at a week's turnover – will affect customers the most as government performance indicators and storage costs will lead to "price hikes".

This is according to Coventry University's reader in cybersecurity Siraj Shaikh, who has issued a plea to telcos and MPs to involve each other – and the public – in a swift dialogue before prime minister David Cameron's bill is signed and sealed within a week from now – a turnover which Shaikh called "very worrying" and, politically, "a gamble" for the government.

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"We should prepare ourselves – we as an industry, and we as a people – for some technologically very challenging positions," Shaikh told Computing.

"It will be a huge burden in terms of monitoring costs for ISPs and telcos. With legislation in place, what will follow are performance indicators, and companies coming out and saying ‘This is how we're going to do this' – and guess who will pay for this? You and me."

Shaikh warned that "what will follow in the next year or couple of years is a price hike in terms of access to services", but that the need to focus budget more on such requirements could conceivably "benefit shareholders and the stock markets – just making the rich richer".

Shaikh stated that those affected need to take part in the discussion – over the next week, if possible.

"The wider political class needs to rise up to this. There's not just one party in the House of Commons. I'd like every MP to make an effort to link up with their constituents and get their views on board. Everyone owns a mobile phone – it's the least that could be done. At least make a feeble attempt."

Suggesting that the legislation is, in his opinion, aimed more at industry and infrastructure providers than the public, Shaikh also believes the industry itself needs to stage crisis talks.

"The industry needs to form security and surveillance-orientated groups, and to have a strong position on this. Things are happening at such a pace that they need to come together and have a clear position, making it clear to consumers what they feel, and how they feel about providing access to technology."

As for the technological challenge itself of cost-efficiency given the new measures, Shaikh said there are still many more questions than answers.

"We see a future where everything will be monitored, but how do we make sure we do the least amount of monitoring for the highest effect, and at the lowest cost?" he asked.

"I've always said I appreciate the need for some surveillance, but we need maximum privacy, providing maximum anonymity and to try to provide as early detection as possible, minimising the need for surveillance."

Response intelligence is the way forward, said Shaikh, but a reasonably priced implementation is still a huge challenge – as well as being unclear whether government even holds "maxiumum anonymity" as a priority.

"We as an industry need to come together, grapple the politics, but very quickly address the point that technology needs to respond to this," he concluded.

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