Great Britain Wants All Internet Use Information
As part of its fight against crime and terrorism, the British Home Office has proposed that records of every person’s e’mail, landline phone calls, text messages, voice-over-internet-protocol (VOIP) phone calls and time spent on the Internet be held in a massive government database, with Internet service providers (ISPs) and telephone companies providing the information to the Home Office. The proposal for the national database has been discussed with ISPs and telecommunications companies in preparation of the Communications Data Bill (CDB), to be included in Queen Elizabeth’s November speech to Parliament. The Queen’s November speech traditionally sets forth the legislative agenda for the upcoming year.
The Times Online estimates that about three billion e’mails are sent every day in Great Britain, with about 57 billion text messages sent in 2007. The new security measures follow plans for the creation of massive databases containing British ID card information and the medical records of National Health Service (NHS) patients. The CDB proposal would allow the government to store the Internet and telecom information for at least a year. Law enforcement would only be able to access the records with a warrant. Since October 2007, British telecom companies have been required to retain phone call and text message records for 12 months; in addition to turning that information over to the government, the data collection requirements would expand to include e’mail, records of Internet usage and VOIP calls under terms of the CDB.
In addition to privacy concerns, there are questions about whether the government can safely manage a sensitive database holding billions of records which might be more prone to identity theft given centralized record location. Jonathan Bamford, assistant commissioner of a privacy watchdog organization, the Information Commissioner’s Office, said: “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.”
The Data Bill is part of a plan to implement uniform record-keeping, as required by the European Union (EU) following the July 7, 2005 London bombings in which Muslim terrorists disrupted London’s transportation and mobile telecom infrastructures with a series of morning rush-hour bomb blasts which killed 52 commuters and injured 700, in the city’s deadliest and largest terrorist attack. Other European government agencies might also be able to access the proposed new database.
Passage of the controversial CDB is in doubt, with Liberal Democrats vowing to fight the bill and Shadow Home Secretary David Davis characterizing the massive database as a threat. Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary Chris Huhne commented: “Ministers have taken leave of their senses if they think that this proposal is compatible with a free country and a free people…Given its appalling track record of data loss, this government simply cannot be trusted with private information. This is an Orwellian step too far.”
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Photo credit: BBC
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