Home Office Backs Down from ‘Super Database’ Surveillance, Launches Consultation

Britain’s Home Office has been wanting to take all communications including everything in social networking sites and phone conversations and put all the information into what has been dubbed a “super database” for police access without a warrant. Recently, though, the Home Office has backed off of such a proposal and, instead, wants to require all ISPs to retain such data for a period of 12 months. All this is happening as it launched a public consultation on these matters – the deadline is on the 20th of July.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

There’s been a long hard fought battle between civil rights activists and supporters of increased surveillance on the internet. At issue is the gathering of all information of internet users in Britain, which includes everything about phone conversations, e-mail, social network communications, and other online activities, and putting them into a centralized database for British police to browse through without a court order or warrant. British civil rights and digital rights activists warned that, among other things, this could be an unprecedented move toward total surveillance of British citizens at the expense of basic fundamental rights. Supporters claim that this would create a valuable new tool to stem the flow of terrorism, help find missing persons, reduce crime and stop paedophiles.

Today, there was a concession. According to British news site, The Guardian, the Home Office has, for now, backed off of plans to centralize all of the data flowing through ISPs and instead require ISPs to hold all this information for a period of 12 months. That is a plan that would cost British tax payers £2 Billion.

The move was greeted with applause by civil rights advocates. Liberty, a British civil rights group, posted a press release on the recent move.

“We applaud the Home Office climb-down on the super Big Brother database and thank the broad coalition of sensible voices who brought it about. It is a clear signal that the public interest in personal privacy can no longer be ignored. However, if companies are to be required to hold even more information than they do at present, concerns about access and use become even more important.” Said Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty.

Chakrabarti added, “Let us look forward to this U-turn on communications data being followed by limiting DNA retention, dumping ID cards and a less callous approach to privacy protection more generally.”

In the midst of all this is the Home Office consultation. The online consultation says, “We want your opinion on how communications information should be collected and stored in order to prevent crime, and catch and prosecute criminals.”

“Communications data is the ‘who’, ‘where’, and ‘when’ information from mobile phone calls, texts, emails and instant messages. It can tell you who sent an email to whom but not what the content of that email was.”

According to a supplementary page, the consultation runs all the way up to July 20th. Information on sending your opinions in can be found there as well.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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