UK: service providers say no to Blunkett
eugen at leitl.org
Tue Oct 22 05:14:26 PDT 2002
Internet providers say no to Blunkett
Plans to monitor personal emails and web page visits in doubt
Stuart Millar, technology correspondent
Tuesday October 22, 2002
The internet industry has refused to sign up to plans to give law
enforcement and intelligence agencies access to the records of British web
and email users, throwing David Blunkett's post-September 11 data
surveillance regime into fresh disarray.
In the latest of a long line of setbacks for the home secretary's data
retention campaign, the Guardian has learned that internet service
providers have told the Home Office that they will not voluntarily
stockpile the personal records of their customers for long periods so that
they can be accessed by police or intelligence officers.
Nicholas Lansman, secretary general of the Internet Service Providers
Association, wrote to officials last month informing them that the
industry had not been convinced that extending the length of time
companies hold on to customer logs was necessary for the fight against
terrorism and serious crime.
The letter, which has been seen by the Guardian, makes clear the depth of
concern among web companies over the privacy and cost implications of
retaining subscriber information.
Mr Lansman said that service providers were "rightly concerned" that
retaining communications data beyond normal business practices may be
unlawful. A paper produced by law enforcement agencies had failed to
address these concerns or make a "compelling case" for data retention.
"The document fails to provide details of the number of investigations
that are currently compromised through lack of available data and assess
whether this is detrimental to the public interest and national security.
The investigations citedrefer to cases in which officers sought data older
than 15 months and where there was no national security consideration
involved," he wrote.
Industry representatives and Whitehall officials have been struggling to
agree terms of a voluntary code of practice introduced under the
anti-terrorism legislation rushed through parliament last No vember in the
aftermath of the attacks on the US. The apparent collapse of the
negotiations may leave Mr Blunkett facing a choice between using his
reserved powers under the legislation to force internet prov-iders to
comply or dropping the measure in response to public and political
The data to be retained includes customers' names and addresses, source
and destination of emails and addresses of websites visited, all of which
would be available to the authorities without need for a judicial or
Telephone providers are also being asked to retain records of calls made
and received as well as mobile phone location data.
In July, the information commissioner, the official privacy watchdog,
warned the Home Office that data retention might breach the Human Rights
Act because communications logs retained strictly for national security
purposes could be accessed by police and intelligence officers
investigating cases such as public health and tax collection.
The Home Office has refused to amend the legislation to resolve this
conflict. As a result, Mr Lansman said, the association could not
"recommend to members that they voluntarily comply with the proposed code
Mr Blunkett has the power to make the code mandatory. In the Guardian last
month, John Abbott, director general of the national criminal intelligence
service, said all communications companies should be compelled to
stockpile customer logs.
Last night, Home Office insiders dismissed suggestions that the voluntary
code was dead in the water. But human rights campaigners said Mr Blunkett
now had little choice but to think again.
Ian Brown, director of the Foundation for Information Policy Research,
said: "Civil society, Europe's data protection commissioners, and now
internet service providers have all told the Home Office their data
retention plans are an unacceptable invasion of privacy."
John Wadham, director of Liberty, said: "Service providers are right to
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