The unfortunate event in Woolwich last week has opened a debate about police powers to monitor citizens' communications.
It has been proposed that ISPs are obliged to record "envelopes" of messages and website visited. This is not unusual given existing powers related to voice calls and text messages. However, then proposals seems to ignore how Internet works, and advances in open cryptography.
First, many people do not use their ISPs email service, and instead opt for 3rd party email services such as Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo to name few. The common feature of these services is that the access to emails is performed over and encrypted channel. ISPs have not technology means, short of installing their root Certificate authorities into everyone's computers, to monitor these messages. In other words, the proposals would only allow monitoring of small percentage of citizens, very likely law abiding, who should NOT be in the snooping law focus.
Second, any computer skilled criminal will most likely use bespoke email provider, or end to end encrypted IM messages. There are open protocols, such as OTR, to enable this capability for open source IM services. There is not chance to snoop on the messages at the ISP level. The only viable place to see the messages is an end point computer where the IM message is sent or received.
Make no mistake, accepting taking our liberties for freedom and privacy of communication in the name of catching criminals will be used against us in non criminals procedures in the future. Let's make it clear this is not acceptable and the arguments for snooping are ill conceived.