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Government database to hold phone and e-mail details
Tuesday 20 May 2008 17:54:49 by Andrew Ferguson

In the very near future it looks likely that the UK government may end up retaining for some 12 months the details of every phone call and e-mail we all make and send. The Data Communications Bill is likely to be put before parliament in the next year and it would appear to go further than previous requirements to meet EU Directives on Data Retention for communications providers. The Times covers the issue, and has the following quote from the assistant Information Commissioner.

"This would give us serious concerns and may well be a step too far. We are not aware of any justification for the State to hold every UK citizen's phone and internet records. We have real doubts that such a measure can be justified, or is proportionate or desirable. We have warned before that we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Holding large collections of data is always risky - the more data that is collected and stored, the bigger the problem when the data is lost, traded or stolen."

Jonathan Bamford, the assistant Information Commissioner

It is not clear whether it is just a record of e-mail headers or the complete e-mail that will be stored. With the masses of spam that is automatically binned by communication providers or filter systems on peoples own computers, sifting through this lot would not be easy. The issue of recording the amount of time spent online which is in the proposals makes little sense, since in these days of connected households, many people will have a device that is always online like a VoIP handset.

Archiving some 3 billion e-mails every day which is the estimate of how many are sent is not a trivial matter. Given the number of personal data leaks from the various databases that hold information on us, concern from the public is very understandable and even if the technology is secured, the weakest link of who has access to the data will still apply.

In theory, police and security services will only be able to access the data after obtaining a warrant from the courts, but what assurances are there that this will not change in the future or that the warrants will start to be issued for increasingly minor things? We have all seen the sort of billing mistakes that arise from time to time due to automated billing software- one wonders what safeguards these surveillance systems will have in place to ensure that e-mails and Internet activity is associated with the right person.

At the end of the day, in all likelihood those planning a terrorist act on knowing that communications are widely intercepted in the UK will find alternate means of communicating, or go unnoticed by using encryption and other methods for anonymising Internet use. Now of course it is illegal to refuse to divulge a password to the police or security services, so will all those using a secure VPN to work from home be under more suspicion than others and receive requests to hand over their keys?

For those still running unsecured wireless networks either intentionally or otherwise this bill is a wake-up call, since if someone borrowed your network and did something that was flagged by the database as perhaps something that threatend national security it is most likely that the police would be visiting you. The broken front door followed by all your computer hardware being taken away for forensics while you protest innocence will not stop the neighbours speculating as to what is really happening.


Posted by pje1979 over 9 years ago
This government have absolutely no respect for peoples privacy.

Have they been taking lessons from the Chinese on how to treat your citizens?
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 9 years ago
As long as it requires an order from a judge (and it does) to access it, I'm not overly concerned.

I'd be very surprised if it got anywhere near that far though, it's only a proposal and it's going to face a lot of flack from within the government, let alone without.
Posted by pje1979 over 9 years ago
Problem is it starts off needing an order from a judge to access, it then a few years later it's adjusted so it doesn't.

They like to do things slowly so we won't notice.

Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
"an order from a judge"

That may be what's in the rules, but it's perfectly clear that what's in the rules and what actually happens are two entirely unrelated matters, and given that no one ever gets held responsible even after the rules are broken and they get caught, there's no incentive to follow the rules, and so maybe your confidence is a little misplaced.
Posted by Aqualung over 9 years ago
They can already access all my data with a warrant from a judge so they can save millions by not having to store it themselves they can get it from my communications firm.

We all know its lies and spin and they will use the data without a warrant they are unable to follow the rules already in place for data security this will make it worse.I for one will encrypt all e mails as a matter of course now ,and ,they wont get the key .I will join the other millions of forgetful users in prison.
Posted by Rroff over 9 years ago
Completely pointless... might stop/catch a few petty crimes but so easy to work around by anyone with something to hide...
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
Another hot air idea unlikely to happen, atleast not to the extent this makes out
Posted by farrina over 9 years ago
Quote "We have warned before that we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society" this worries me - as he seems to be totally unaware that we already have arrived in the big brother world.
Posted by shaunhw over 9 years ago
Perhaps the "accidental" public disclosure of the contents of the PRIVATE emails etc. of a few of our politicians, might make them change their minds about this.

They should be ashamed of themselves for this assault on our privacy.
Posted by arthurbram over 9 years ago
This Government is obsessed with controlling the population.Even George Orwell didn't get this far. A clear infringment of our rights. Who says the terrorist have not won. As far as security goes, there is so much evidence of miserable failure to keep information safely that we can have no confidence that this scheme will do any better.
Posted by mibagentsmith over 9 years ago
This will only affect those with nothing to hide. Those who have, will find an other way. Strange, even sinister that the very people who wish to set up this surveilance are the same people who won't divulge details of their expenses. Expenses WE pay!
Posted by tiggerrmummy over 9 years ago
I think this sort of plan would shut down email as we know it here in the Uk and that the Royal Mail would start to see an increase in mail again.
As far as counter terrorism is concerned I think its more likely to be seen to be doing something rather than actually doing something so this is seen to be addressing the perceived threat.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 9 years ago
c_j - Actually that one tends to be enforced. The problem is when you have rules like RIPA which allow you to bypass the judge.
Posted by mickerickerous over 9 years ago
Wot cums after terrabytes per hour!!! Has a cost benefit analysis been done by anyone even remotely competent to judge how much this will cost and how easy it will be to filter to gather meaningfull intelligence?
Posted by ferretuk over 9 years ago
How could this work in practice? Have ISPs got to install packet sniffers on their routers and then identify email traffic and log accordingly? Logging on ISPs SMTP servers won't work, unless they're forced to ban people hosting their own servers...
Posted by chrysalis over 9 years ago
Unworkable, I host my own email on my own server sitting in a datacentre in germany. I expect various other people do similiar things, then you have the webmails like hotmail and gmail. Also storing 12 months of full emails would also be unworkeable.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
The government cat even find their own details they save about people already to those shiney things called CDs without accessing a system that will contain data in amounts you cant even pronounce about every single person sending an email or making a phone call..... Somehow i dont think anyone has much to worry about, the spotty trainee will format the damned thing inside of a week by mistake.
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
It doesn't matter if it's unworkable so long as HMG think it will look good in the papers. This is the same lot who talk about keeping sex offenders off the Interweb by having ISPs block email addresses, how unworkable is that, but Smith is still blathering on about it, because in the clueless chattering classes it sounds good...
Posted by SteveToplek over 9 years ago
Can't happen here? It's happened in Germany already.
It might be unworkable, but that's never stopped them.
Wake up! This government would love to waste more of OUR money. This is a golden opportunity for them.
What's next? A bill to fine people for saying & writing things in our e-mails & phone calls they decide are "illegal".
Maybe I shouldn't have put that - some a#####e in New Labour might read it & get ideas LOL.

Posted by kesimmonds over 9 years ago
Shaunhw "Perhaps the "accidental" public disclosure of the contents of the PRIVATE emails etc. of a few of our politicians, might make them change their minds about this."

I think you'll find that politicians will be exempt from this particular law. It will only apply to untrustworthy people, i.e. the rest of us.
Cynical? Moi?
Posted by Canopus over 9 years ago
"As long as it requires an order from a judge (and it does) to access it, I'm not overly concerned."

That's a little naive, they do it without a court order, bang you up under Prevention of Terrorism act without public proof and when asked where their info came from refuse to say for security reasons. Lots of cases like this.
Posted by darcychampney over 9 years ago
Another cockamamie idea. Does anyone ever cost out new proposals? Just an excuse to employ another few thousand 'servants' of the State. And who would be reading them?
Who suggested this? Find him, get him, string him up.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
quote"That's a little naive, they do it without a court order, bang you up under Prevention of Terrorism act without public proof and when asked where their info came from refuse to say for security reasons. Lots of cases like this."
Indeed, even though through their own stupidity i cant see this working, thats never stopped them judging you guilty without proof before, our so called terrorist laws are a joke anyway, after all wear a padded coat, not understand English and run like thousands do to catch a tube train and you may get shot.
Posted by Duratus over 9 years ago
* Article 12.Human rights signed by UK government

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Posted by Duratus over 9 years ago
The UK government is in breach of this act so they should be reported to the UN and if found guilty should be imprisoned
Posted by wppclarke over 9 years ago
It's not clear whether these proposed new data interception and storage systems will include instant messaging and phone calls made entirely between by VOIP/Peer to Peer System users (such as Skype to Skpe)? Will it incluse FAX communications? Will it include the telephone call of Royalty (if so some of Charlie Boy's calls to Camilla should make compelling, X-rated, snooping!)? Does anyone know?
OR is this all really a back-door way of increasing the revenues of Royal Mail, by encouraging us to start using the postal system again instead of phone/email?
Posted by Whitefort over 9 years ago
It's already very easy to set up email with strong encryption, using something like PGP or OpenPGP, with the relevant plugin for your email software.

I use it to digitally sign my emails, but if this stuff comes into force I'll be using it to encrypt them too. If they want to read all my emails, they're at least going to have to work at it a little :)
Posted by peterudd over 9 years ago
Yeah, like I'm going to order my cocaine by unencrypted email. Do me a favour!
Posted by Deezel over 9 years ago
I wouldn't worry about it too much knowing how stupid they are they'll probably loose all the records with a week ;)
Posted by SteveToplek over 9 years ago
The only worry is that we're gonna be paying for it. Probably in more ways than one.
Posted by zundappzundapp over 9 years ago
"Posted by Duratus about 21 hours ago
The UK government is in breach of this act so they should be reported to the UN and if found guilty should be imprisoned"

What government ever complied with UN rules?! Certainly not ours - British personnel are still in Iraq getting killed due to the government circumventing the UN. And it won't matter whether it's the current lot or the Tories - they're the same people....

Posted by GOLFBILL over 9 years ago
Posted by CARPETBURN over 9 years ago
Nah ID fraud rises because people are stupid and do not destroy personal info and will willingly hand over name, address, phone number and so much more to any tom, dick or harry, whilst at the same time passing their credit card around like its free money... ID theft not even i can blame the government entirely for, you cant blame the goverment for people being stupid. Look at online stuff any old lemming will happily click on an halifax.RU link and fill in their details.
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