UK bill calls for retention of all communications data

Details have emerged about the Communications Data Bill currently in pre-legislation in the UK. Home Office representatives have declined to address whether passage of this bill will mean keeping a central database of all e-mails and texts sent, calls made, and Web pages viewed.

More details have emerged about the Communications Data Bill currently in pre-legislation in the UK, leading many to speculate that the British government is assembling the means to spy on its citizens.

Since October 2007, UK telecom companies have been required by law to retain all landline and mobile phone call data for one year as a part of the wider EU Directive 2006/24/EC.

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Now, plans to retain the data from almost all communication in the UK that could be included in the draft Communications Bill are causing public uproar. Spokespersons for the Home Office -- the UK's counterpart of the Department of Homeland Security in the US -- said that changes to the Investigatory Powers Act of 2000 will allow authorities to access communications records in counter-terrorism and crime prevention.

"The changes to the way we communicate, due particularly to the Internet revolution, will increasingly undermine our current capabilities to obtain communications data and use it to protect the public," say Home Office officials.

While the actual data retention will no doubt begin at the service provider level, a possible outcome that many media outlets expect is the maintenance of a state-level database of the billions of exchanges that take place every day.

This elicits a host of technical questions that would take years to resolve; among them: How much space does an estimated annual 57 billion text messages and one trillion e-mails consume? So even if these passages make it into law, launching the database itself probably won't take place any time soon.

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