'Snoopers' charter' will force ISPs to monitor Facebook, Twitter

'Snoopers' charter' will force ISPs to monitor Facebook, Twitter

Summary: 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

TOPICS: Security

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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Topic: Security

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for ZDNet.com. 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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  • hmmm, forcing isps to snoop on customers in a vain effort to deter paedophiles is like banishing pardophiles to a rocketship launched into outerspace, but accidently filling the ship up with little children.
  • why not just launch an internet wide permanent DDOS on all major social networking sites ? this would permanently protect kids from paedophiles that scout for kids on the sites.
  • I'd like to see a open pilot project on the cost/analysis benefits, before a mass rollout. The pilot project should include the City of London financial district, and the Houses of Parliament/MPs. If it works to remove insider dealing, ponzi schemes, cash for questions/honours and general corruption then it might have some support in being applied to the general derisory population.

    Hey, if successful - we might even be able to pin million pound 'bungs' as being paid to TB for his political afterdinner speaking as having a direct connection to the work he did while in office on behalf on various companies.

    Why is it every 20 years, Politicians feel the need to think up their next 'Poll Tax' idea.
  • Isn't there some EU privacy standard this would violate?

    This proposal is worse than the Patriot Act.