UK government plans to force ISPs, carriers to store web and phone usage

By Lee Kaelin on

A new report has surfaced that reveals the UK government plans to force British ISPs and mobile operators to keep online communications by internet users, as well as phone call details, text messages and website visits. The proposed anti-terror plans would see UK ISPs ordered to keep this information for at least one year, and make it available when requested by Goverment security services, according to the report by the Daily Telegraph.

The proposed Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP) claims the actual content of calls and emails would not be recorded, however, the phone numbers, email addresses and identities of those using social networks and phone handsets would be kept. The information stored would be able to identify activities of phone and internet users and who they interact with, both on and offline.

The collected information would even extend as far as monitoring the conversations with those chatting whilst playing games online, including those chatting using Facebook and direct messages between Twitter users. It would in effect monitor your entire online activity, the websites you visit, who you speak to and everything you do with your mobile phone – a major concern when you consider your smartphone can be used to track you.

Privacy rights groups are understandably angered by the news, even more so given the Conservative party's previous promises to collect less personal data than had often been used by previous regimes.

Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group says the coalition government has simply revised the heavily critized Labour goverment's Intercept Modernisation Programme which was dropped in 2009 amid strong protests.

“Labour’s online surveillance plans have hardly changed but have been rebranded. They are just as intrusive and offensive,” Killock said. “The Coalition opposed Labour’s plans in opposition. Now, despite civil liberties commitments from Conservatives and Lib Dems, Home Office officials are planning to push through the same online surveillance capabilities.”

Killock felt the whole subject had been hidden from Parliament in a bid to build the surveillance plans before the politicians really found out what was happening.

As the London Olympics move closer, the government is growing increasingly concerned about the increased risk of acts of terrorism. “It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public,” a Home Office spokesperson said.

The new plan calls for ISPs to keep the information locally, as opposed to inside a government controlled facility, which raises concerns regarding security considering the growing number of hackers breaching servers and posting personal information online. Many believe it would present a huge target, with the content worth an absolute fortune to cybercriminals.

“It is important that proposals to update Government’s capabilities to intercept and retain communications data in the new communications environment are proportionate, respect freedom of expression and the privacy of users, and are widely consulted upon in an open and transparent manner,”said Andrew Kernahan of the Internet Service Providers’ Association.

Despite not being informed prior to the news breaking, when speaking to IT Pro, ISP British Telecom stated the company “adheres to all legislation applying to its activities and co-operates fully with law enforcement agencies.”

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