UK Government commits to reduction in communications data storage

Out-Law News | 21 May 2010 | 4:55 pm | 2 min. read

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said that the new Government is likely to reduce the number of digital communications records retained on the Government's behalf.

Clegg indicated in a speech that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition were likely to scrap the last Labour Government's plans to increase the amount of data on telecoms usage that service providers have to keep for a year.

"We won't hold your internet and email records when there is just no reason to do so," he said. "This government will end the culture of spying on its citizens. It is outrageous that decent, law-abiding people are regularly treated as if they have something to hide. It has to stop."

Though Clegg provided no further details, his pledge would run counter to Labour's policy of asking telecoms firms to retain an increased number of telecoms usage records for a year.

The current law demands that telcos keep basic telecoms usage data for a year. The Labour Government had planned to demand the retention of more detail on internet use, including the keeping of 'third party' data such as social networking message information.

That plan had not yet become law and the Home Office could not offer further details on the Government's new plans.

"The Government will review arrangements for the retention of communications data to ensure email and internet records are not stored 'without good cause'," said a Home Office spokesman. He was unable to confirm whether or not the Government believed that the reasoning behind the last Government's records retention plans constituted 'good cause' or not.

The Labour Government had rejected a once-mooted plan to create a single, Government-run database of records of who made what phone call, email and internet communications and when. Though it would not have recorded the content of communications, privacy activists feared that the database could undermine people's rights.

Opponents within the telecoms industry said that the new plans were an extension of the current system.

The current Government is unlikely to be able to eradicate the 12-month storage of basic telecoms data because it is mandated by the EU's Data Retention Directive.

The Government also plans to examine the way that police work in the light of changing technology. "This review will also address the implications of changing communications technologies on the capabilities of the police, security and other agencies to maintain levels of public protection," the Home Office spokesman said.

"Our democracy has suffered at the hands of encroaching centralisation and secrecy for decades," said Clegg this week. "Take citizens' rights: eroded by the quiet proliferation of laws that increase surveillance, quash dissent, limit freedom."

"So there will be no ID card scheme [and] no national identity register [and] a halt to second generation biometric passports," he said.

Clegg also promised greater regulation of CCTV and tighter controls on the DNA database. The Government's programme of government has said that the DNA database will adopt the policy already in place in Scotland of not keeping the DNA records of innocent people except in the case of some violent and sexual offences.