In the wake of last summer's bombings in London, British authorities are pushing for European Union?wide rules requiring mobile phone companies and Internet service providers to keep records of information about each call, text message, e-mail, and Internet log-in to pass through their systems.
Though conversations and e-mails themselves would not be stored under the proposal, data about communications, such as the time of a cell phone call and the identities and physical locations of the participants, would be kept by telecom firms under uniform rules. British Home Secretary Charles Clarke is confident that, despite early objections, member states will come to an agreement.
"Costly, unlawful, intrusive, clumsy, inefficient, and technically infeasible," reacts Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International. "We've seen no evidence," he says, "that [the proposed] retention is necessary, and that means you want to look hard at the cost." The transition costs alone, says Davies, could run to billions of pounds.
Doug Jewell, campaign coordinator for the British civil liberties group Liberty, says law enforcement authorities "tend to think the more they've got the better. What you get is a haystack so big you're never going to find the needle." Similar concerns surfaced in a report earlier this year, considering a similar data retention proposal, by the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs:
"With a data volume this huge, one search using existing technology, without additional investment, would take 50 to 100 years."