One of the many promises made by the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government was that it would “end the storage of internet and e-mail records without good reason.” The obvious flaw in this promise is that all the protection provided was only good so long as the government was unable to invent a ‘good reason.’
Now it appears according to The Guardian newspaper, that such a ‘good reason’ has been defined in the Strategic Defence and Security Review, to keep all web site visits, e-mail and phone calls made in the UK. And it is an old reason: basically, everything should be kept in case the police or intelligence services might find it useful in the prevention of a ‘terror-related crime’. Note: not actually terrorism, but terror-related, which is rather more vague and not so clearly defined in law, even given that ‘terrorism’ is already very broadly defined in the relevant laws.
This is pretty much exactly what the last Labour government were planning to do anyway with the proposed Communications Bill. Oh, and dont’t forget that the cost of this has been estimated at around 2Bn GBP ($3.5Bn) in a country that just announced ‘unavoidable’ welfare cuts of 7Bn GBP… that’s the reality of the ‘age of austerity’ for you’. It shows what David Gill argued in his book Policing Politics (1994) that the intelligence service constitute a ‘secret state’ that persists beyond the superficial front of the government of the day.
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.