Tech

UK Home Office chucks US firm Leidos £30m for help snooping on comms data

The UK’s Home Office has handed a £30m contract to engineering and IT outfit Leidos to help government agencies access and analyse communications data for combatting terrorism and organised crime.

Behind the managed services deal is a plan to smooth the “efficiency” with which government agents can access telecoms data.

The Home Office’s National Communications Data Service (NCDS) launched the Agile Data Retention and Disclosure Services (“ARDS” – yes, we know the acronym doesn’t work) last year with a prior information notice to the market.

It said the ARDS would “allow Telecom Operators to be on-boarded and off-boarded rapidly” providing services the Home Office hoped would support “collaborative ways of working” with telcos and tech suppliers.

The project falls under the remit of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism. Within it, the National Communications Data Service’s job is to provide a service that gives security, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies legal access to communications data.

These “requesting agencies” must have the “ability to identify and locate subjects of interest and determine how and when they are communicating through the acquisition and exploitation of communications data,” the contract award notice said.

The contract is in part designed to help “keep up with changing technology… vital to the work these agencies do to protect the public.”

“Communications data has been shown to be a particularly rich and reliable source of data that can be used by investigators to develop actionable intelligence and/or build a compelling evidential case to bring offenders to justice,” the notice said.

“[It] has played a role in every major Security Service counter-terrorism operation over the past decade. It has also been used as evidence in 95 per cent of all serious organised crime investigations handled by the Crown Prosecution Service.”

The five-year contract with Leidos (including possible extensions) is designed to help agencies cope with the developing technical landscape.

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“Internet communications are constantly and rapidly changing, and it is frequently the case that essential data is only either partially available, or fragmented, across service providers in the UK and overseas,” the notice continued. “NCDS must monitor and anticipate changes in the communications market and deliver, and be ready to deliver, timely, affordable capabilities and services.”

In November, the UK government launched a Counter-Terrorism Operations Centre, which would be “truly collaborative” uniting partners from counter-terrorism policing, the intelligence agencies, and the criminal justice system, coordinating their expertise, resource, and intelligence, according to security minister James Brokenshire.

The main legal mechanism giving government agencies access to communications data is the controversial Investigatory Powers Act 2016, which offers them the option of targeted and bulk interception and collection of communications data.

US-based contract winner Leidos employs about 38,000 worldwide and has reported annual revenues of around $11.09bn. In December 2020, it bought 1901 Group, a provider of managed IT services and services. ®


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