Monday, February 20, 2012

U.K. plans to store 'Who, when, where' of every email, call, text message, more: report

If you value your privacy and you live in the U.K., you might want to read further. A new anti-terrorism plan will require landline, wireless carriers, and broadband providers to store the the "who, when and where" of every phone call, text message, email, direct message from social networking sites, and websites visited online.

In other words, the database would not record the contents of calls, texts, emails, etc. but rather the numbers or email addresses of who sent and received them. The database would store the information for a year.

The report was first published in The Telegraph, which did not cite any sources.

The report stated that the U.K. government has been negotiating with Internet companies for two months and that the plan could be announced as soon as May.

Obviously such a plan would raise the hackles of privacy and civil liberties advocates. More worrisome for those who have been watching news about the Internet is that hackers seem to be able to break into just about any database at will.

Don't expect to rely on the government to have effective security, either. It won't be the government that stores the data. Rather, it will be individual companies themselves, such as, for example, BT, Sky, Virgin Media, Vodafone and O2, who would have to keep the records --- and keep them secure --- themselves.

This plan is a revised version of a prior proposal by the Labour government, similar in nature, which would have created a central database of all the information. The project, known as the Intercept Modernization Programme, was dropped in November of 2009 after research showed it had little public support.

It is unclear why the government would believe there would be any more support for this plan than the prior one. Privacy and civil right advocates have already chimed in.

For one, Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, which is an organization that works to preserve digital rights and freedoms, said:

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"This would be a systematic effort to spy on all of our digital communications. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats started their government with a big pledge to roll back the surveillance state. No state in history has been able to gather the level of information proposed - it’s a way of collecting everything about who we talk to just in case something turns up."

Gus Hosein of Privacy International said,

"This [database] will be ripe for hacking. Every hacker, every malicious threat, every foreign government is going to want access to this. And if communications providers have a government mandate to start collecting this information they will be incredibly tempted to start monitoring this data themselves so they can compete with Google and Facebook.

"The Internet companies will be told to store who you are friends with and interact with. While this may appear innocuous it requires the active interception of every single communication you make, and this has never been done in a democratic society."

Sources told The Telegraph that ministers were set to allocate legislative time to the new program, which has been dubbed the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP), in the Queen's Speech, in May.

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