Big tech accountability? Read how we got here in  The Closing of the Net 

The British  media has been excitedly reporting today that the government intends to bring in  a ‘snoopers charter’  with  ‘social network surveillance’. According to these media reports, based on leaked information from an unnamed source, the government will  allow the secret services and police access to  monitor our phone, email and web communications. It’s being positioned as some kind of master cyber-spy plan.

 There is no public detail of the plan itself.  However, it has been known for some time that the  government is working on something called the Communications Capabilities Development programme (CCDP).  Given what is known about this progamme, I think that the British government  is proposing  an extension of the data retention rules which the British Presidency  pushed through the EU in 2006. The question therefore arises – what will the European Union do about it?

 The policy concerned relates to communications traffic data retention. This is the storage of data related to the time, date and sender/recipient (caller/called party) of messages, to be stored by the network providers, in case of a requirement for access by law enforcement and other specified public authorities.

 EU law requires the data to be available for purposes of dealing with serious crimes. In the UK, there is a problem with the implementation because the list of those who may acces the data is very long, and includes local councils who have used it for trivial purposes, such as dealing with people who fail to scoop up after their dogs in public parks.

 The existing law is limited to fixed ISPs (for email) and specifically excludes web traffic data. That is, it does not require the storage of your web surfing. It was done at a time before Facebook and social media messaging was important.

From what can be ascertained, the new British proposal known as the Communications Capabilities Development programme  wants to extend the law to include precisely those things - social media messaging and web surfing. It may also permit greater access to the data by the security services, although that is unclear.

 It is being said that there will be will be a new law in the Queen’s speech which is due in May. If so, it raises two important questions.

 For a law to be in the Queen’s speech, it must be ready to go through Parliament, which means that they must have been working on it for at least a year.

 And, if it is at that stage, details of the proposal will have been communicated to the European Commission, at least informally.

 The Commission is about to launch a review of the data retention rules for the entire EU, under Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding. This new British law, if it is really ready to go, will have implications for the European one,  and could pre-empt decisions in Europe or force the Commission’s hand. Some countries, like Germany, do not want data retention at all, and  it will provoke a political conflict.

So what do you say, Mrs Reding?


If you want to check the British media, here are a couple of examples:

The Guardian -  Government plans increased email and social network surveillance

The Daily Mail  - Emails, texts and Facebook messages to be logged under snoopers' charter as Tories revive plans for online surveillance

You may re-publish my article under a Creative Commons licence, but you should cite my name and provide a link back to Media and Academics – please cite as Monica Horten,  UK’s  email spy plan – what do you say, Mrs Reding?,  2 April  2012 . Commercial users - please contact me.

Iptegrity in brief is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I’ve been analysing analysing digital policy since 2008. Way back then, I identified how issues around rights can influence Internet policy, and that has been a thread throughout all of my research. I hold a PhD in EU Communications Policy from the University of Westminster (2010), and a Post-graduate diploma in marketing.   I’ve served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe  Committee on Internet Freedoms, and was involved in a capacity building project in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. I am currently (from June 2022)  Policy Manager - Freedom of Expression, with the Open Rights Group. For more, see About Iptegrity is made available free of charge for  non-commercial use, Please link-back & attribute Monica Horten. Thank you for respecting this.

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Copyright Enforcement Enigma launch, March 2012

In 2012, I presented my PhD research in the European Parliament.


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