Gov't stands firm on web-monitoring plans

Gov't stands firm on web-monitoring plans

Summary: The government has said it wants ISPs and telecoms companies to retain records of all internet communications, despite fierce criticism in a consultation paper

TOPICS: Security

The government will carry on with plans to require communications service providers to store details of all communications flowing over their networks, despite serious concerns being raised over technological and civil liberties issues.

Details of all internet communications originating on a communications service provider's (CSP's) networks, including who is communicating with whom, when, and where, will have to be stored, the government said on Friday, in response to a consultation on web monitoring which began in April.

As part of its interception modernisation programme (IMP), the government wants CSPs to store details of all web communications, including those originating on social-networking sites such as Facebook; in gaming and virtual reality environments; and instant messaging. The aim is for public authorities to be able to see who is talking to whom, and build up a picture of an individual's social interactions, as an anti-crime and anti-terrorism measure. The programme will cost £2bn over 10 years, according to official estimates.

However, as part of the consultation, organisations raised serious privacy concerns. Data protection watchdog the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said the plans were not proportionate.

"Based on the evidence presented in the consultation, and further documentation available to us, the information commissioner believes that the case has yet to be made for the collection and processing of additional communications data for the population as a whole being relevant and not excessive," said the ICO.

In its response to the consultation, the government said CSPs would be required to store details of all web communications that originated on their own infrastructure. At present, CSPs are required to retain data relating to email and telephone conversations.

The government proposals have been criticised by numerous IT experts as being technologically unfeasible, in part due to the numerous different proprietary protocols used by different communications companies. For example, Facebook uses different protocols from Yahoo Instant Messenger, which in turn uses different code from Second Life, and so on.

In its response, the government addressed technological criticisms, saying its plans would work. "Whilst recognising the challenges, the government is confident its proposed solution is technically feasible and will continue to work with communications service providers in developing it," said the response.

On Monday, Home Office minister David Hanson said in a statement that the government would consult CSPs on how best they could store and present communications data.

"Communications data is crucial to the fight against crime and in keeping people safe. It is a highly technical area and one which demands a fine balance between privacy and maintaining the capabilities of the police and security services," said Hanson. "We will now work with communications service providers and others to develop these proposals, and aim to introduce necessary legislation as soon as possible."

A Home Office spokesperson declined to say whether the government would attempt to bring in communications data legislation before the next general election, in 2010. Upcoming legislation will be detailed in the Queen's Speech at the official opening of parliament next Wednesday, but draft legislation disclosed in the summer made no mention of communications data legislation.

The Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) told ZDNet UK on Tuesday that it had expressed "deep concern" about the amount of data the government expected ISPs to retain. "It seems the government is convinced of the need to increase data retention capabilities," said an ISPA spokesperson. "We'll be looking for more details from the government."

However, IT security expert Richard Clayton told ZDNet UK he suspected the proposals had been put on hold for the moment. "If you're going to spend £2bn on combating crime, there are better things you could spend the money on," said Clayton.

Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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  • Its seems the government now simply ignore advice and carry on regardless

    The government say that what they are proposing is possible but they won't say how its possible and who is going to fund it.

    I personally think the ICO should look into the proposal as in my mind, this is excessive data collection and therefore against the data protection act.

    Apparently everything is now for anti-terrorism reasons...what a load of old cods wallop! Its just a poor excuse for intrusions. Why record everyones conversations...why not get authorisation when required and simply target those pointed out by intelligence reports etc.

    If the government try to bring this in by ignoring everyone...everyone (including ISP's) should in turn ignore the government...just don't do it / turn your back on them.

    Soon our internet access will be controlled like in China and it will all be in the name of anti-terrorism.
  • So the labour government...

    Marches on with its unconditional same line of b*llsh*t as usual, instead of spending that 2 billion pounds on putting more police officers on the street and untying there hands to stop serious crimes, they instead are going to use it plus ISP bill payers moneys to chase after softer targets to bolster there crime busting pie charts.

    We'll what else can we expect from a man who is richard nixon's double.
  • The Hitler State

    MPs are not elected and Ministers are not appointed to supervise or see who or what my communications are. And certainly no tax payer funded public employee has any business at all to poke his or her nose into my business for any reason at all. The only permissable reason for surveillance is as part of a criminal investigation and this must be only with Judicial authority, strictly limited, properly justified and the responsibility of a named individual in every instance.
  • Total invasion of privacy

    Using terrorism as an excuse to squeeze in these 'Big Brother' state monitoring laws is disgusting. We British have never been ones to let our lives be ruled or governed by fear. We shouldn't let our right to privacy be taken away because of it, we're better than that and frankly it's disrespectful of the Government to think that they can get away with this. Sacrificing freedom for "so called" security is something that I am not prepared to do. Feeling secure is but a state of mind, we are all at risk every day, be it from illness, crossing the road, freak accidents, but that's just life. Do you want to trade your freedom for the Governments misguided vision of 'security"?
  • Yup agreed...

    But lets take a little look more closely to the point, non of this would be needed if people committing crimes where actually punished for a change, instead of being given a pat on the back.

    Irregardless to whatever the crime may be in this country you bet ya bottom dolla you'll be out within several years, plus you can sue the person you tried rob/kill/maim.

    But there again how can real sentencing be applied after MP's where caught with there sticky fingers in the till, and got away scott free?

    This country's become a lost bet the joke of the world, a scums paradise.