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U.K. minister wants enhanced monitoring of Internet usage

U.K. Home Office Minister David Hanson is pushing for further data archiving of information by Communications Service Providers, including such web portals as Facebook.
Written by Doug Hanchard, Contributor on

U.K. Home Office Minister David Hanson is pushing for further data archiving of information by Communications Service Providers, including such web portals as Facebook. In a BBC published article, the Minister responsible for Privacy, Christopher Graham, (along with several other un-named ministers) has some serious concerns  with the proposal.

Home Office Ministry - United Kingdom

Home Office Ministry - United Kingdom

Not only does Minister Hanson suggest that records be accessible at the source, but also tracked by internet service providers. Such a system would require immense capital and infrastructure. Based on what the Minister desires, it would appear that he wants investigative agencies to have broader mandates in observing people and creating dossiers on anyone in the world. This suggests that the British are gearing up to have a significant electronic intelligence community, similar to the U.S. variant, the National Security Agency. While most G-8 nations have extensive archives and records, it has never been required by local internet service providers or other telecommunications companies to maintain the records to the extent the Home office is suggesting. Such systems have never been within the budget of local police agencies. Minister Hanson is possibly suggesting that these costs should be passed on to the user of the internet services through cost sharing mechanisms of the communications provider and the government through direct subsidy, using tax dollars to implement the initial construction of the platforms required.

In the BBC article, Minister Hanson is quoted as saying:

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.

The consultation showed widespread recognition of the importance of communications data in protecting the public and an appreciation of the challenges which rapidly changing technology poses.

We will now work with communications service providers and others to develop these proposals, and aim to introduce necessary legislation as soon as possible.

The fine line that the Minister is suggesting is very fine indeed and creates further challenges for communications suppliers in the U.K.  No other country currently has such a requirement or proposed legislation. Technically such a system is possible to implement and many web portals have implemented the scale and size required to maintain records and many already do for a specific time period.

If ISPs must then correlate user input of information to their network access, the technical issues become significant and maybe impossible to implement. Many web portals for example offer SSL and https encryption of data. Complicating matters are internet cafés and DHCP of shared IP addresses, wireless access, shared workstations and other access technologies such as satellite. How the government plans to navigate around those capabilities and techniques is unclear.

The BBC report suggests that the cost of the infrastructure is approximately £ 2 billion. What it doesn't take into account (so far) is the operational costs, maintenance of the system, responsibility / integrity of records, changes, modifications and other technical requirements upon completion of the project. Like any government cost estimate, it's not likely to be accurate and is almost sure to be over budget and be unmanageable. More problematic for the government is a court challenge -- which is very likely. A key argument will be the integrity of the data and its admissibility into a court of Law. The more rigorous the specifications and standards required, the more it will cost. It appears that the Home Office is going to spend approximately £32 per person to (initially) find out.

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