UK Muses Internet Surveillance, no Super Database

Dennis Faas's picture

The British Home Secretary has reportedly scrapped plans for a super database, but still wants communications firms to record and organize all emails, phone calls, Internet use and visits to social networking sites for security purposes as part of a modernization in UK police surveillance tactics.

Instead of a super database, communications companies from Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to mobile phone networks are being asked to extend the range of information they currently hold on their customers and organize it so it can be used to investigate crime and terrorism.

CSPs Asked to Record Contacts, not Content

According to the BBC News, Communication Service Providers (CSPs) will be asked to record the Internet contacts between people, but not the content. Personal and private information like photos or messages will not be recorded -- only who is communicating and how they're communicating would be recorded. (Source:

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act Would Still Apply

Criminal investigators could then examine data collected by the CSPs along with information linking it to specific devices such as mobile phones and computers, expanding on a voluntary arrangement that allows investigators access to data already held by CSPs.

Protections that allegedly exist under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act would continue to apply. Top level authorization within an entity such as the police force would still be required with requests to see the data.

A separate consultation on limiting the number of public authorities accessing the information is being conducted by the Home Office until 20 July 2009.

Far Beyond Counter Terrorism and Serious Crime

Even though there will be no super database does not mean there won't still be a great deal of surveillance.

As noted by Chris Huhne, it's not easy separating the basic details of a call from its overall content. "What if a leading business person is ringing Alcoholics Anonymous, or a politician's partner is arranging to hire a [adult] video?" (Source:

As noted by Chris Grayling, Shadow Home Secretary, one of the biggest problems is that the government is essentially building a culture of surveillance that goes far beyond counter terrorism and serious crime. In short: too many parts of government have too many powers to snoop on innocent people -- and that needs to change.

Such proposals are still a long way from becoming law.

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