Coalition plan to revive web snooping rebuffed by ICO

Privacy image

A resurrected plan to force internet service providers (ISPs) to store their customers' personal internet browsing habits has been called "disproportionate" by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).Despite the coalition government promising to outlaw the retention of internet and email records stored without good reason, the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review said that the former Labour government's project would be revived.ISPs and mobile operators already record, and retain for six months, email header information and web access details such as log-on/off times, IP address and details of dial-up numbers. Under the new regulations, this data would be supplemented with web activity logs, currently held for four days, and the complete data set would then be stored for a year."On the face of it, the proposal seems disproportionate when any perceived benefits that might be gained from retaining this data are set against the risks to privacy involved," an ICO spokesperson said.Even though the content of messages would not be retained, the sheer volume of data generated by internet use would be a heavy burden for ISPs and mobile data carriers. The original plans were dropped last November when these organisations voiced their opposition to the then government's plans.They argued that the strain on their networks and storage systems would be intolerable. The securing and management of the stored data would also be expensive forcing charges to be passed on to customers.Information Commissioner Christopher Graham objected to Home Office plans when they were first mooted by Labour in 2009. At that time the ICO response was: "The consultation does not appear to have fully investigated other options that may exist between the two extremes of a single, centralised government database of all communications data and doing nothing."In the current cutbacks, the estimated cost of 2 billion may deter government action and avoid an inevitable confrontation with the ICO and the communications providers.

IT PRO recently asked whether government data collection was out of control.