Summary:

Independent.co.uk opened a hornet’s nest this morning with its report the government wants access to data from social network communications…

imageIndependent.co.uk opened a hornet’s nest this morning with its report the government wants access to data from social network communications. Here’s what is actually happening…

To help police solve crime, some telcos had already retained communications data voluntarily since 2001, before a 2007 EC anti-terrorism directive saw that fixed-line and mobile carriers were compelled to keep the details.

Counter-terrorism minister Vernon Coaker last Monday told the home affairs select committee the Home Office would now extend this mandatory retention order to certain internet services. Asked whether this extends to social networks, Coaker told the committee: “Social networking sites, such as MySpace or Bebo, are not (Currently) covered by the directive. That is one reason why the government are looking at what we should do about the intercept modernisation programme.”

The programme, which may come to cover “Facebook, Bebo, MySpace and all other similar sites“, would tell services what data they must keep via a government notice. But Coaker stressed services would retain “the who, where and when of communication” of messages … not the content” – “in effect, the information on the outside of an envelope”. Services would have to retain data for 12 months.

Coaker is establishing a group, comprising intelligence, police and industry members, to implement the programme; he pledged to “ensure that service providers are not penalised financially as a result of complying with the regulations”. Here’s the full parliamentary record of the committee meeting.

In truth, telco and email traffic data retention has helped solve countless crimes, including terrorism. But extending that principle in to personality-rich social profiles is sure to cause consternation.

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