European Digital Rights
August 27, 2008

UK government intends to oblige ISPs and telephone companies to keep Internet personal data traffic for at least 12 months and local, health authorities and lots of other public bodies are to be given access to details of everyone’s personal Internet information.

On 15 August 2008, the Home Office published a consultation paper which makes clear that the personal data will now be available for crime and public order investigations and may even be used to prevent people self-harming. Furthermore, as the measure is the result of an EU directive, the data will be made available to public investigators across Europe.

The measure will cover VOIP as well and access to personal Internet and text data will be available to all public bodies licensed under the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), meaning that hundreds of public bodies including local councils, health authorities, the Health and Safety Commission, the Food Standards Agency or Ofsted (the education standards watchdog), may require telecom companies to hand them over the personal data.

UK government intends to go further by introducing a draft communications bill this autumn which would require all the telecommunications companies to hand over this data to one central "super" database. The police and other public authorities will be able to access this database directly without having to make a request to the company which keeps the records.

The database had been planned to be bundled with the EU Data Retention Directive that is to be legally implemented in UK by March 2009. The consultation paper published by the Home Office is meant to transpose the Directive as a standalone statutory instrument. Laws made by statutory instruments do not need a Parliament vote.

Home Office civil servants are working on plans for the central database within the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP). The IMP budget was part of the intelligence agencies’ undisclosed funding bid to the Comprehensive Spending Review last year. Sources disclosed that secret briefings gave a cost for the database that could reach nine figures.

The proposition faces opposition as many fear that a single database under Government’s control would be vulnerable to attacks or errors that may lead to information leaks.

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman, said the government could not be trusted with sensitive data. "We will be told it is for use in combating terrorism and organised crime but if Ripa powers are anything to go by, it will soon be used to spy on ordinary people’s kids, pets and bins" he said.

In the consultation paper, the Home Office also gave an estimation of a cost of over 60 million euro that the storage of such an amount of Internet data may be imposed on the Internet industry. Besides, the Home Office admitted that the companies might have to store "a billion incidents of data exchange a day". The Government has already paid about 23 million euro over five years to telecom companies for access to data about citizens’ use of phones and the Internet.

‘Snooper’s charter’ to check texts and emails (13.08.2008)

Home Office – A consultation paper – Final phase of the transposition of Directive 2006/24/EC (08.2008)…

Government pays telcos £18.5 million for records retention (7.08.2008) to spend hundreds of millions on snooping silo (19.08.2008)

EDRIgram: UK Government will store all phone, Internet traffic data (21.05.2008)

EDRIgram: ICO worried about a UK Government-owned traffic data database (4.06.2008)

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