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What do you think about communications data collection and storage?

27 April 2009

We want your opinion on how communications information should be collected and stored in order to prevent crime, and catch and prosecute criminals.

We’ve launched a consultation that suggests new ways for phone companies and internet service providers to collect and store data. The information they collect helps us catch criminals, find missing people and protect children from paedophiles.

What is communications data?

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.

The information is vital for police and other agencies. It can be used to prevent terrorism and serious crime, as well as providing evidence at trial. It has played an essential part in bringing to justice:

  • Bilal Abdulla, responsible for the attempted bombing of Haymarket in London and Glasgow airport 
  • Ian Huntley, following the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman 
  • the gang responsible for the kidnap of Seven Chinese nationals smuggled into the UK 
  • Philip Thompson, the ‘librarian’ who ran an international paedophile website 
  • Sean Mercer, following the murder of schoolboy Rhys Jones.

The consultation

The consultation, called ‘Protecting the public in a changing communications environment’ aims to find the right balance between privacy and security by suggesting ways to maintain our ability to collect and store communications data. It explicitly rules out setting up a single storage place for all communications data.

Instead, it suggests that we legislate to allow communications service providers (CSPs) to collect and keep information, including communications data from third parties, which might be needed by police and other public authorities. It also suggests that CSPs organise this data, so that police, security services and other law enforcement agencies can access the information they need more quickly and easily.

Doing nothing is not an option – Home Secretary

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said that her key priority was ‘to protect the citizens of the UK’.
‘To do nothing is not an option as we would be failing in our duty to protect the public,’ she said.

‘Advances in communications mean that there are ever more sophisticated ways to communicate and we need to ensure that we keep up with the technology being used by those who would seek to do us harm.

‘However, to be clear there are absolutely no plans for a single central store.’

What do you think?

We'd like to know what you think about these issues. Please take a few minutes to download and read the consultation, and if the issues involved are important to you, reply to some of the questions it asks.

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