Home Office to snoop on internet traffic

The government plans to extend the law to require internet service providers (ISPs) to keep records of the public's e-mail and web use by March next year. Under...

The government plans to extend the law to require internet service providers (ISPs) to keep records of the public's e-mail and web use by March next year.

Under the government proposals, ISPs will be required to record details such as the identity of the sender and recipient, the time and location of the communication, and the type of message.

The details are part of a Home Office document that calls for comment on the proposed legislation.

Many so-called communications services suppliers (CSPs) already collect this information voluntarily. The proposed law would make it mandatory.

The new law would make it easier for the government to feed its proposed centralised communications traffic database. It could more easily ask questions such as "how many people who have one mobile phone account also have another account with a different mobile network?".

A spokesman for ISPA, the ISPs' association, said the proposal did not come as a surprise, but that that ISPA was studying them before commenting in detail. The likely sticking points were the retention period, reimbursement for costs incurred and precisely what data was to be collected, he said.

The consultation is to fulfil the need to comply with European Directive 2006/24/EC on data retention.

It requires telecommunications providers and internet service providers to store the origination and destination details of all fixed-wire and mobile calls, e-mails and voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls, among other data, for up to two years.

The European Commission has appointed an expert group to finalise the definition of the data to be retained. It will meet in November this year.

Ireland and another member state are challenging the directive in the European Court of Justice on procedural grounds,

The UK had set a self-imposed deadline of 15 March 2009 to extend the law to internet-based communications.

A spokesman for the Internet Telephone Service Providers' Association said a lot of the providers keep the required data as a matter of course. However, ITSPA would respond in detail to the consultation document, he said.

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