£46m to spy on our communications – and we have to pay for it

The Home Office has revealed the cost of capturing our communications data from selected Internet Service Providers – and has also broadened the terms of this to include text messages.

At a total cost of £46.58m over 8 years, the Home Office (i.e. The Taxpayer) “will bear all costs relating to the design, development and installation of Data Retention Facilities with communication companies.”

The communications companies which were consulted (including BT, Cable and Wireless and O2) welcomed the news that they wouldn’t have to foot the bill for retaining data not required for business purposes.

So in return for the Government’s function creep generosity, what do we get and how was it decided?

The Home Office’s impact assessment reveals that four policy options were considered, namely:

1) Stop work on internet data retention.
2) Continue with voluntary data retention.
3) All communications providers to retain data.
4) Selected communications providers to retain data.

Option 4 was preferred. This gives the law enforcement community the full benefit of retained data, subject to existing strict access provisions, whilst minimising the number of communications companies that need to implement this Directive and reducing the cost to the taxpayer. (Italics mine.)

In fact, for this not-so-bargainous, probably-to-be-repeated £46m, we will be paying for an even deeper invasion of our privacy, because of the Government’s new definition of “e-mail.”
Linx Public Affairs  notes that

“the government is taking a more expansive definition of “Internet e-mail” than previously. Until recently, the industry has understood the term “Internet e-mail” in the Directive to refer to SMTP e-mail – what everybody knows as e-mail.

“Thus “Internet e-mail” is different to all “electronic mail”, which has a legal definition that includes SMS text messages.

“The government is now saying that “electronic mail” is defined in the Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive as being
“any text, voice, sound or image message sent over a public communications network which can be stored in the network or in the recipient’s terminal equipment until it is collected by the recipient” and that “Internet e-mail” means any such messages sent over the Internet.

“This would mean that when a public electronic service such as an ISP provided (for example) an instant messaging server that performed “store-and-forward” (e.g. for offline users), they will be obliged to retain communications data relating those instant messages too.”

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said:

“If this sounds expensive just wait for the government’s proposed Central Communications Database. £12bn would be spent on recording every email, text message and phone call. The waste of public money is sickening enough without the devastating cost to our personal privacy.”

You can read more on this story in The Guardian.

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This entry was posted in Big mad database and News.


  • Consequences the Governemnt probably does not intend:

    – “..will bear all costs relating to.. ” is a formula for repaying the ISPs what they necessarily spend. It is an incentive to attribute all possible cost elements to the work. The expected result is a total cost of well over 100 million pounds, even if the specification is not changed.

    – Non-selected ISPs will advertise that fact to attract business.

    – The market for non-public rented line facilites will expand in unexpected ways.

    – The market for reliable, routine encryption will increase radically.

    – A happy band of hackers will devote their obsessive talents to corrupting these idle records in ways which will not be noticed until too late.

    – The share of messages which are not ” ..text, voice, sound or image ..” will rise in interesting ways.

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