UK: service providers say no to Blunkett

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Tue Oct 22 05:14:26 PDT 2002,7369,816523,00.html

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 Guardian

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 
executive warrant.

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 
of practice".

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 
raise concerns."

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