U.K. government drops central database scheme

Published 27 April 2009

Burden of storing communication logs will now fall to ISPs

U.K. home secretary Jacqui Smith has confirmed the government is ditching the idea of a central intercept database to log all phone calls and emails sent or received by U.K. citizens. She will make the decision public in a press conference today, and we will bring the details she provides in tomorrow’s issue.

John Oates writes that instead, Internet service providers will be expected to store the data for later government use. The Interception Modernization Program (IMP), first reported by the Register last August, was to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on the super-database. Jacqui Smith had even found a former Vodafone executive, Tim Hayward, to run the project. The burden of storing communications logs — the time, date and length of calls and emails rather than the content — will now fall on ISPs.

Dubbed the Big Brother datastore, the scheme has been criticized by privacy advocates. Liberty said it was a hallmark of free societies that police target criminals rather than spend time watching and monitoring the whole population.

The trade body for ISPs has cautiously welcomed news that the government does not plan to build a massive, centralized database of communications data, but voiced fears about the cost to its members. “In particular ISPA welcomes the decision by Government to explicitly exclude a central database as a means for storing communications data,” it said in a statement.