Almost a decade ago, the Government passed the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act – or RIP for short. At the time, it caused something of a stir among technologists and civil rights activists alike, who saw it as a mandate for ‘spying’ on individuals by monitoring their use of mobile phones and internet access. Of course, the Government claimed it was an essential tool in the fight against terrorism, and was only bringing the world of covert surveillance into the 21st century. Nevertheless, the move shook the perceived freedoms of information technologists to their very core. After the fanfares, after the condemning articles in national dailies and specialist papers – not a lot happened. Or so we thought.
But this weekend press stories have started to emerge again, and I was interested to read in The Mail on Sunday of Government’s new proposals under RIP. It seems that telecoms companies, in addition to keeping records of every telephone call, every website visit and every email sent and received, will now be asked to organise this information more efficiently – in order for instance that the related records for a particular individual may be more easily collated. And who pays for this? The great British taxpayer of course, whose cash the Government will use to reimburse telecoms companies for the cost of sorting through hundreds of millions of data sets.
I found the quote from Martin Hopkins, Head of Data Protection and Disclosure at T-Mobile (UK) Ltd most telling. He said “It would be extremely ironic if we at T-Mobile (UK) Ltd had to acquire the surveillance functionality enivsaged by the Consultation Document at the same time that our parent company, headquartered in Germany, was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the demise of the equivalent systems established by the Stasi in the federal states of the former East Germany.”
And of course, the Government has an impeccable record for never losing confidential data, doesn’t it…