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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 iptegrity.com. Media and Academics - please cite as Monica Horten, UK's email spy plan - what do you say, Mrs Reding? www.iptegrity.com, 2 April 2012 . Commercial users - please contact me.

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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor, with expertise in online safety, technology and human rights. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

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