The government has published plans to force internet service providers to retain data on all online communications made by UK citizens, including those on popular social sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The government wants to give HMRC, the police, and the intelligence agencies access to geolocation data, and information about who is communicating with whom on services like Facebook and Twitter. Image credit: Pixelbully
The Communications Data Bill, laid before parliament on Thursday, will see content service providers being forced "to retain and store communications records" beyond those they retain for their own business reasons, the Home Office said in a statement on Thursday.
The data includes the time and duration of a communication, the number or email address of the originator and recipient, and the location of the device from which the communication was made. The bill will also cover geolocation data, which can pinpoint exactly where individuals were when they made their communications.
This is subject to safeguards, and they don't have such access without a warrant to the actual content of such information.– Nick Herbert, policing minister
The organisations that will be able to access the information include HMRC, the intelligence agencies, the police, and the upcoming National Crime Agency, in order to determine who has been talking to whom, where, and when.
"The police already have such access in relation to existing forms of technology, in relation to, for instance, our telephone lines, our mobile phone records," policing minister Nick Herbert told the Modernising Justice conference on Thursday.
"[This] is subject to safeguards, and they don't have such access without a warrant to the actual content of such information... There is an hour-by-hour, week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year degradation of [police] ability to access such information simply because more and more communication is done from a different angle or platform, which is: via the internet," he said.
The bill is a continuation of a Labour plan called the Interception Modernisation Programme. The coalition government rebranded the initiative as the Communications Capabilities Development Programme, with the difference that ISPs would hold the data in individual databases, rather than the government holding the data in a centralised database. Both programmes had the same aim — to allow police access to data about web communications for all UK citizens.
Volume of data
Should the government plans go ahead, police would face the problem of the sheer volume of data to wade through, according to one senior police officer.
"The sheer volumes of data, and the need to prioritise requests to obtain that data, is a challenge," said the officer. "We need to work with forces and service providers to improve [access]."
Chief constable Nick Gargan, chief executive of the National Police Improvement Agency, said that it should be incumbent on ISPs operating in the UK to be able to present data to police in an intelligible form.
"As the pace of technological improvements quickens, the challenge to law enforcement becomes ever more severe," Gargan told ZDNet UK at the Modernising Justice conference.
ISPs presenting data in an intelligible form to the police "should be a condition of operating in our market and in our territory", he added.
The Communications Data Bill will now be reviewed by the Intelligence and Security Committee, and separately, by a joint committee of members of the House of Commons and House of Lords.
It replaces existing data law with regards interception, according to the Home Office.
Access to data will be overseen by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, while the Information Commissioner's Office will review the security and integrity of the retained communications data.
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