UK Liberty

Kite flying or yet another database?

Although there was a related announcement early this year, it seems the Times broke this story first :

A massive government database holding details of every phone call, e-mail and time spent on the internet by the public is being planned as part of the fight against crime and terrorism.

Note that it is not the content of the communication itself but the identities and locations of the participants, and the dates, times and means of the communications, which are to be stored.

Internet service providers (ISPs) and telecoms companies would hand over the records to the Home Office under plans put forward by officials.

The information would be held for at least 12 months and the police and security services would be able to access it if given permission from the courts.

The proposal will raise further alarm about a “Big Brother” society, as it follows plans for vast databases for the ID cards scheme and NHS patients. There will also be concern about the ability of the Government to manage a system holding billions of records. About 57 billion text messages were sent in Britain last year, while an estimated 3 billion e-mails are sent every day.

Yes, I have to wonder if it is practical and how it would work with things like Tor.

Home Office officials have discussed the option of the national database with telecommunications companies and ISPs as part of preparations for a data communications Bill to be in November’s Queen’s Speech. But the plan has not been sent to ministers yet.

The proposal has emerged as part of plans to implement an EU directive developed after the July 7 bombings to bring uniformity of record-keeping.

Well, it was developed prior to the bombings, the bombings providing an excuse for greater urgency.

Since last October telecoms companies have been required to keep records of phone calls and text messages for 12 months. That requirement is to be extended to internet, e-mail and voice-over-internet use and included in a Communications Data Bill.

Police and the security services can access the records with a warrant issued by the courts. Rather than individual companies holding the information, Home Office officials are suggesting the records be handed over to the Government and stored on a huge database.

Something that the Directive itself seems to prohibit:

Member States shall adopt measures to ensure that data retained in accordance with this Directive are provided only to the competent national authorities in specific cases and in accordance with national law.

Back to the Times:

One of the arguments being put forward in favour of the plan is that it would make it simpler and swifter for law enforcement agencies to retrieve the information instead of having to approach hundreds of service providers.

Of course it would. So would it make life much easier for the authorities if we kept a diary on their ‘massive database’ of all our movements and communications throughout the day. What matters is proportionality, the trade-off, the liberties we lose in return for some extremely hard to quantify benefit.

Opponents say that the scope for abuse will be greater if the records are held on one database.

A Home Office spokesman said the Bill was needed to reflect changes in communication that would “increasingly undermine our current capabilities to obtain communications data and use it to protect the public”.

Of course the Government is blaming the EU. But it is our Government that is ‘goldplating’ the Directive, and if I recall correctly it was our lovely Government that championed the Directive in the first place.

“Kite flying” by the way is when a ‘source’ floats a proposal and looks to see if it gets shot down and who is doing the shooting.


See also Guy Herbert.

And James Hammerton.

Update 2

Informational self-determination, via Stoppt die Vorratsdatenspeicherung.

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