The news that Virgin Mobile not only tracks the movements of its subscribers via the mobile phone network but also keeps those records indefinitely has worried a lot of people. I'm a Virgin subscriber, and it worries me -- but then, I'm not sure what happens to the records from the other networks. Some say they don't keep them for very long -- but I know and you know that this doesn't mean they're deleted. Is it legal for, say, MI5 to request bulk copies of all records to keep on file? Or if they're moved offshore to somewhere like, say, Maryland? You just know that there'll be loopholes all over the privacy laws that won't come out unless they're tested in law.
It's best to assume -- as you can be sure the bad guys do, no matter what -- that every telephone is tapped, and every cellphone is shown as a little light on a giant map of Great Britain deep in some underground government bunker. You can then decide whether you care enough to take steps to circumvent this.
Actually, this all goes to show that the cellphone is rapidly becoming the spying machine of choice. Leave one hidden in a room on hands-free mode auto-answer with the ringer turned off, and you can dial into the room and listen to what's going on whenever you like. Or surreptitiously dump one in someone's baggage and follow them around with it -- because it only transmits on the cellphone bands, the signal won't look odd to anyone looking for bugs.
It'll get worse as our PDAs, laptops and other gadgets start to grow wireless connectivity. Our best hope for continued privacy lies in the fact that the intelligence services don't have too little data, but too much. The real threat comes not from data capture, but from data mining. Keep an eye on this.