Edie G-Lush

National Cyber-database Proposal

When Labour ministers say ‘we’re listening’, this is what they really mean — and it’s frightening

When Labour ministers say ‘we’re listening’, this is what they really mean — and it’s frightening

Last week the Labour government revealed its plans to create a national cyber-database to hold details of every phone call, text, email and visit to the internet, as part of its plan to fight terrorism and crime. Internet service providers and telecoms companies will be required to give their records to the Home Office, where the data will be held for at least a year. Police and other security units will be allowed access if permission is granted by the courts. The government claims the proposal comes as part of plans to implement an EU directive developed after the 7 July bombings to bring uniformity of record-keeping among member states.

The proposal set alarm bells ringing for both human rights and security experts. The Information Commissioner Jonathan Bamford warned that the database was ‘a step too far’ and that the UK was in danger of ‘sleepwalking into a surveillance society’. ‘Holding large collections of data is always risky,’ he said. ‘The more data that is collected and stored, the bigger the problem when the data is lost, traded or stolen.’

There are also business and economic implications. Susan Hall, an IT specialist at the law firm Cobbetts, points out the huge costs this could impose on ISPs, which would be required to keep traffic data for every internet connection made and every email sent by their clients. ‘Your ISP will be required to retain billions of records. Even though storage is cheaper and broadband is faster — making it easier to gather this kind of data — ISPs will still need potentially to spend millions of pounds building the virtual capacity to standardise this data.’ One of her principal concerns is that the sheer scale of the data storage requirements has been seriously underestimated by the sponsors of this Bill.

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