Government drops database plans

The Government has dropped plans to create a massive database of all internet communications, following stern criticism from privacy advocates.

Instead the Government wants ISPs and mobile phone companies to retain details of mobile phone calls, emails and internet sites visited.

As with the original scheme, the actual content of the phone calls and messages won’t be recorded, just the dates, duration and location/IP address of messages sent. The security services would then have to apply to the ISP or telecoms company to have the data released.

The new proposals would also require ISPs to retain details of communications that originated in other countries but passed over the UK’s network, such as instant messages.

In a consultation paper Home Secretary Jacqui Smith admitted a central database was fraught with difficulties, both technical and ethical: “The Government recognises the privacy implications in holding all communications data from the UK in a 12-month period in a single store. The Government therefore does not propose to pursue this approach.”

She called the new approach “the least challenging technically to implement and the cheapest to build and run”.

Indeed, Smith suggested that it would cost £2 billion over the next ten years to implement the scheme. This would include compensation for the communications industry with regards to new equipment and processes, though no specific figure was quoted.

The Internet Service Provider’s Association, which represents the ISPs, was broadly supportive of the scheme, though it remained cautious over potential costs. “ISPA welcomes the decision by Government to explicitly exclude a central database as a means for storing communications data.

“In updating the Government’s capabilities in the new communications environment, ISPA expects Government to commit to reimbursing service providers for any extra costs of storing and retrieving data as is required under existing legislation.”

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