Data retention in UK: the Communications Data Bill and the Interception Modernisation Programme

11 August 2008

Rhian Hill

The UK Government plans to publish a draft Communications Data Bill in 2008. The Bill will transpose the provisions of the Data Retention Directive relating to internet communications data into UK law. At the same time it will provide more information about the government's interception modernisation programme.

The UK Government has announced that it will publish a draft Communications Data Bill later in 2008. One aim of the Bill is to transpose the remaining provisions of the Data Retention Directive, which introduces time limits for mandatory retention of communications data. The Bill will also make changes to the procedures for acquisition of communications data by government bodies and will, according to the government, “bring the legislative framework on access to communications data up to date with changes taking place in the telecommunications industry and the move to using Internet Protocol (IP) core networks”.

The Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2007 implemented some parts of the Data Retention Directive, relating to telephony data. The UK Government has until March 2009 to implement the section of the Directive relating to internet communications data.

There have also been questions in the House of Lords relating to the Government's Interception Modernisation Programme. Established as part of the Prime Minister’s national security remit in 2006, the Interception Modernisation Programme is a cross-government programme, led by the Home Office. Its stated aim is to ensure that the government can continue to lawfully intercept and exploit data when fighting crime and terrorism in the changing communications environment. There is speculation in the UK press as to whether the programme could lead to retaining all UK communications data in a central database. The Information Commissioner issued a statement in July 2008, expressing concern over the privacy implications of a central database.

This programme is still in relatively early stages, with the government proposing a feasibility study in relation to the risks of its proposed solution. The government minister has stated in response to Parliamentary questions that the tendering process for providing these services is not yet complete and that the government has come to no decisions on how it will impact on any aspects of intercept. Once the draft Communications Data Bill is published, more information about the Interception Modernisation Project’s budget is likely to be released.