UK considers Big Brother database for phone and web

James Middleton

May 20, 2008

3 Min Read
UK considers Big Brother database for phone and web

It has emerged this week that the UK government is mulling plans to build a monster database capable of holding the details of all phone calls, emails and internet sessions initiated by UK citizens.

The proposals appear to be an extension of 2006’s EU Data Retention Directive (DRD), which requires all ‘access providers’ to store call records and ‘event logs’ for a period of not less than six months and not longer than two years.

Although event logs do not contain the content of a conversation or a website visit, they are the fingerprints of the internet. If need be, these tracks can be used to identify the name and exact location of a caller or web surfer and are often used in criminal investigations.

The plans, which appear in the government’s draft Communications Data Bill are expected to be fully revealed in November’s Queen’s Speech and propose that access providers hand all data directly over to the government for storage.

Given that the justification for such sweeping measures is the fight against terrorism, it appears that the government believes the data will be more valuable to it if it can access it directly without the need for court orders and the like.

The original implementation of the DRD suffered from a number of problems – not just the massive financial burden placed upon companies required to comply with the storing of and access to the data in question, but also with the definition of those companies. MNVOs ran into trouble, because they are required to produce equally sufficient data records as traditional MNOs but do not have the same access to the complete network and IT systems that are required.

Ultimately, it’s managing all those files and providing access to them that has proved to be the big issue, as well as the security, given that the system has got to be online and has to be all IP for ease of access. Aggregating all this data in one place would not necessarily make the process easier. Establishing the infrastructure to perform such a task would be a mammoth feat in itself.

Commenting on the proposals, Jonathan Bamford, assistant Information Commissioner, said an intention to bring all mobile and internet records together under one system would 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,” he said.

Then there is the matter of security, and the UK government’s recent track record is not one that instils confidence. “Proper safeguards would be needed to ensure that the data is only used for the proper purpose of detecting crime. 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. Defeating crime and terrorism is of the utmost importance, but we are not aware of any pressing need to justify the government itself holding this sort of data,” the Commissioner said.

About the Author(s)

James Middleton

James Middleton is managing editor of | Follow him @telecomsjames

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