Thursday, 9 October 2008

Nanny Home Office to Record Everything

The Home Office continues to build an all-seeing Nanny State at our expense, regardless of proportionality, competitive and low-cost communications or the need to conserve our taxes to support the financial system.

The proposed Data Retention Regulations require UK public network providers to retain data that identifes the source, destination, date time and length/size of every single phone call and email on their networks, as well as the type and location of the device involved. Using that data, authorities can of course find the content in, ahem, 'other systems'.
"... We [the Home Office] consider that these measures are a proportionate interference with individuals’ right to privacy to ensure protection of the public. Previous debates have concluded that the retention period is a significant factor in determining proportionality. In the draft Regulations at Annex A, we propose to continue with a retention period of 12 months."
Failing to mention, of course, that the Home Secretary can extend the retention period to 24 months, merely by written notice. And ignoring the fact that the cost is in secure storage, retrieval and deletion, for which the Home Office is now infamous.

This particular initiative has been handed to us (with Home Office complicity) by European Directive 2006/24/EC, conceived amidst the panic of the 'war on terror'. So, of course, it must be well considered and completely necessary today. It's also a natural extension of the Regulatory of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA!) which David Blunkett introduced to such a warm welcome and which has been critical to Local Authorities' success in their war on dog-fouling [checks shoes for 3rd time today]. But just to add weight to its claim of proportionate impact on our human rights, the Home Office cites a vast empirical study undertaken by independent experts:
"During a two week survey in 2005 of data requirements placed by the police, there were 231 requests for data in the age category between 6 and 12 months old. 60% of these requests were in support of murder and terrorism investigations and 86% of the requests were for murder, terrorism and serious crime, which includes armed robbery and firearms offences."
So, we need this giant database and retrieval system for names, dates and places for every single communication on a British network in order to support about 200 data requests a month. Well, clearly the new regulations weren't needed to enable these requests to be made in 2005. And history appears not to record how critical the results were to solving a crime. Murder is an ironic justification, given how firmly the Home Office is holding the pillow over our faces. However, while the unsolved murder rate has nearly doubled over the past decade to 52, the Tory response missed a golden opportunity to justify investment in some enormous database to prove the exact time I called last night to say I'd be home to read stories. Instead, they merely blamed this rampant surge in mayhem on "police being overwhelmed with red tape, bureaucracy and government targets that distract officers from protecting the public." I feel their pain.

Ah, yes, the cost. The good news is that the taxpayer is to reimburse the network providers the "additional costs for retaining and disclosing all communications data". The Home Office claims this will amount to a suspiciously precise "£68.44m capital, £39.40m resource over 8 years", whatever that really means. Is the £39.4m perhaps an annual figure? Is it inflation adjusted? It assumes no investment in public sector systems, so that must be hidden elsewhere. Weirdly, it also assumes that electronic communications will cease in the UK in 8 years time, rather than grow exponentially. Perhaps the database will enable Plod to figure out whodunnit.

In the meantime, the Home Office claims it will avoid the disproportionate impact of all this on small firms. This assumes that either (a) there will be no more small firms providing network services in the UK (sad, but now plausible) or (b) small firms will be able to carry the cost of investing in the additional storage and retrieval systems until their requests for reimbursement are lodged with the Home Office, processed, approved and finally paid. Either way, start-ups and other competitive, low-cost network providers can't afford to play in that sort of bureaucratic game.

Next: average speed camera networks.

PS: the Society for Computers and Law response to the proposals can be viewed here.
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