Via Mr Eugenides and Cicero and Tim Worstall
The Times reports today that HM government has had an idea – you know the government that wants to introduce ID Cards with database, to introduce a national children’s database, a national NHS database, and to introduce a national DNA database, and which last year required telecommunications companies to keep records of each of our phone calls, and each of our text messages (and there were apparently 57 billion text messages sent in the UK last year). Can you guess what they want to do?
They want to create a new database.
Not content with having records of the phone calls and texts from the Jeremy Kyle show to my mobile (see the Jeremy Kyle tag for more) they want more, They want to know when I blogged about it, and who I e-mailed to tell.
As The Register reports what has been suggested – that all records held by ISPs – logging our every e-mail, our every web visit – and telecommunications companies should be handed over to the government to be held in a large database.
The Times indicates that such information would have to be accessed by court order. However, storing all of this stuff on one database causes some potential difficulties.
As the Register explains,
“such a massive amount of data will be ripe for speculative data-mining and fishing techniques, rather than more targeted searches. More to the point, given this government’s gross incompetence in safeguarding any of our data [that will be the millions of child benefit records that the government lost among other thinsg presumably], having all our comms info in one place has to be a major concern.”
So what is the rationale behind this move?
Well, apparently it’s Europe – according to HMG – as a result of the European Data Retention Directive . However, when you examine this directive you see that while the directive provides that providers should hold data in a similar manner across the EU and recital (22) indicates any implementation is subject to the general provisions on the right to respect for one’s private life – enshrined in the European Convention on HUman Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU.
Nothing in there about the state being required to retain the information. The state is only under an obigation to supervise the retention through an appropriate supervisory body (the Information Commissioner presumably in the UK). FUrther the Directive indicates that the rationale behind it is to prevent the information having to be retained more than once (recital 13). That states,
“Data should be retained in such a way as to avoid their being retained more than once.”
So what would happen to the data if passed to HMG? Would the ISP have to get rid off it, to comply with the directive?
Well, if it’s not Europe underlying this (despite the protestations of HMG) then what’s the motivation?
That’s right – our old friend the war on abstract nouns. This is part of the fight against “terrorism”.
So, let’s get this clear. Terrorists will be caught/put off their evil ways by the thought that the government will hold centrally details of 57 billion text messages a year, and 3 billion e-mails EVERY DAY – most of which try to sell mechanisms whereby one can increase one’s partner’s pleasure (I’ve found one surefire mechanism for that: DON’T TALK DURING THE APPRENTICE – but I’m not sure if there’s a general market for it).
Well, surely that must be persuasive enough? This is from the same school of thought that indicates detention without charge for 42/56/90 days (* – delete inapplicable) is desirable merely because the police want it (although the prosecutors think it unnecessary) and that the Special Immigrations Appeal Commissioners – those who hear cases where the accused doesn’t know what he hasn’t been charged with – is a necessary stpe to protect the nation.
These proposal disregard civil liberties and our MPs sleepwalk into them.
But taking that as read, and taking as read the ridiculous idea of the state that HMG is vaguely competent to retain this information given that it distributes our bank records and personal information by TNT courier on a couple of CDs with nobody having to sign for it – will these proposals stop terrorists?
Can you guess?
Of course not.
The Register points one crucial defect in the system.
“The proposed bill also ignores at least two actual problems which law enforcement struggles to deal with. Unregistered mobile phones and VoIP services like Skype mean that the proposed law will catch only the densest of criminals.”
So, if The Foundation is the incredbly sophisticated highly talented terrorists that received wisdom indicates is it beyond their knowledge to use one of those systems that gets round the problem? And if they do use these mechanisms this means the only people whose records will be retained in one easily accessible, easily crackable database are those of people like us.
And the price of being seen to do something wholly ineffective is borne by everyone as the edifice of civil liberties takes another battering from HMG’s demolition ball.
ETA A typically cogent analysis by septicisle appeared on my RSS feed overnight. He writes
“The only ones getting caught out will, as always, be the incompetent and the law-abiding.
Still, if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear, right? Except the government losing all that information, of course. Typically, it’s the powerful that gain and the powerless that will be even more at risk from this”