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UK pushes forward with online data retention plans

November 16, 2009

Like Canada, the UK is pushing forward with new plans to force telecommunications companies and ISPs to retain online data, despite opposition from both the industry and ordinary service users. The New Labour govenrment had delayed the plans from last year, faced with the strength of the opposition and launched a ‘consulation’. The consultation apparently still generated 40% opposition, which one would think was enough to tell them that something was wrong. But, as I said last year, “the collection of such traffic data will still go ahead… partly at least because the Americans want it; there is pressure on many countries for this kind of data collection and storage – see for example, the FRA law in Sweden. Networking these databases together with others is a major aim of the FBI’s secretive ‘Server in the Sky’ project.”

However, now the UK plans go further than many other countries’ schemes in this area, as they would cover not only traffic data but also a whole range of data which would not normally have been regarded as  traditional communications like social networking activity and even internal online gaming data. This would seem to be in line with US programs that regard the behaviour of – let’t not forget, fantasy – game and virtual world avatars as somehow indicative of real-world tendencies and practices (e.g.: Projects VACE and Reynard), an extremely dubious assumption and one which extends the reach of the state into people’s fantasy and dream lives.

The BBC story mentions an estimated 2Bn GBP (around $3.5 CAN) cost for this – which will no doubt be passed on to service users – but given the immense problems posed by some of this data, I would reckon that this could a massive underestimate, especially if one takes into account the UK state’s history of appallingly-managed computerisation and database-building schemes. The original plans also would have allowed all agencies empowered under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to make use of such data, and the RIPA consultation response from the UK government did contain some indications that some new agencies would be given powers of access, but I am still not sure whether the government will keep the list of agencies as long as it was in last year’s draft Communications Bill.

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