Tuesday, 20th May 2008
At some point you expect that common sense will prevail and the UK government will realise that it is not yet capable of gathering, storing and managing large amounts of data. That time has obviously not yet come with the latest announcement that the Home Office is considering requiring Internet service providers (ISPs) and ‘phone companies to hand over their records. According to the report in The Times (and many other sources) the intention is to create a single government database that would hold details of every ‘phone call and email and would record how much time individuals spend on the Internet http://digbig.com/4wxxp. Police and security services would be able to access the records, which would be held for 12 months, by means of a warrant issued by the courts. Just to get a sense of how much data would be held, about 57 billion text messages were sent in Britain in 2007 and around 3 billion emails are sent every day, according to The Times article.
Government officials are working on the idea as part of their preparations for the data communications Bill to be included in November’s Queen’s Speech. However government ministers have not yet been consulted. The scheme comes about as the UK government decides how to implement the EU directive that wants to bring uniformity to record-keeping. The details are outlined in the government document ‘Preparing Britain for the Future’, which outlines the Government’s draft legislative programme for 2008-9
For the last 8 months phone companies have been keeping records of ‘phone calls and text messages – yes, really. If Home Office officials have their way the proposed Communications Data Bill will extend that to Internet, email and voice-over-internet use. The powers of RIPA, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, which already gives many government agencies access to communications data, will be extended.
It is not yet clear how the proposals would affect industrial and commercial life. However, given the number of individuals who now either work from home, or who split their time between home-working and working in their employer’s premises it is difficult to see how distinctions could be made between different types of activity.
As soon as the news of the planned Bill was released the newswires were hot with comment, mostly expressing extreme concern about data privacy given the Government’s track record on managing data. One of the most telling comments was from Gus Hosein, a senior fellow at Privacy International. He believes that these proposals are controversial stating: ‘The idea that ISPs need to collect data and send it en masse to central government is, without doubt, illegal’ http://digbig.com/4wxxr.
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