Home Office reveals £1.8bn cost of snooping bill

The Home Office has finally taken the wraps off its Communications Data Bill, but the draft version of the £1.8bn programme faces significant changes as it is debated.

Home Office reveals £1.8bn cost of snooping bill

As expected, the Bill outlines how the authorities will be able to access communications data – records of email headers, websites visited and file transfers, for example.

In a move that Home Secretary Theresa May said is critical in order to “catch criminals and to protect children” the government plans to extend the reach of its communication surveillance ability, with police given the authority to access data when they feel it is relevant.

Critics, however, claim the bill is open to abuse and a threat to privacy, dubbing the proposals a “snoopers bill”.

The plans were first revealed in April, but the announcement of the draft bill provides significantly more detail on what data would be retained, including three central categories.

It allows data collection exercises that are perfectly reasonable – but would also allow pervasive black boxes that would monitor every online information flow

“Subscriber data” could be used to identify account holders, “Use data” would identify the services and websites used by consumers, while “Traffic date” would trace transmission details.

According to the draft bill, traffic data would include “routing information identifying equipment through which a communication is or has been transmitted, for example, dynamic IP address allocation, file transfer logs and email headers”.

As well as the police, the Home Office said the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the National Crime Agency, the intelligence agencies and HM Revenue and Customs would also be able to apply for access to the data.

Local authorities would, however, be excluded from the scheme.

Although officials had previous played down the costs of the plans, it today revealed that they would “lead to an increase in public expenditure of up to £1.8 billion over 10 years from 2011/12”.

However, May claimed that “benefits from this investment are estimated to be £5–£6.2 billion over the same period”, without explaining how.

Privacy concerns

Privacy campaigners have raised serious concerns over the scope of the data collection, but coalition MPs have already called for changes in the legislation, especially the way network filtering is to be used to monitor traffic.

The draft was criticised for being too vague on key issues such as how network traffic would actually be collected.

“As written, it gives the Secretary of State far too broad a power. It allows data collection exercises that are perfectly reasonable – but would also allow pervasive black boxes that would monitor every online information flow; an idea which is clearly unacceptable,” said Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert in a blog post.

“This must be tightened up urgently. The accompanying text is much better – but I don’t think we should pass broad laws on a promise from government that they will never abuse it.”

The bill is expected to generate heated debate as campaigners sift through the details of the 118-page document.

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