Privacy Advisor

UK--Controversial Communications Data Law May Return

June 1, 2013

By Brian Davidson, CIPP/E

A controversial bill that would permit UK authorities to identify individuals via Internet communications such as e-mail and Skype calls may still be introduced, despite assurances from sections of the UK coalition government that such legislation will never be implemented on their watch.

The Communications Data Bill, intended to facilitate the storage and access to individuals’ Internet data by law enforcement authorities to keep pace with serious crime and terrorism in the digital age, was met with resistance from privacy campaigners and parts of the UK coalition government and was thought to have been blocked. However, a government briefing note published alongside the Queen’s Speech on 8 May indicates that the government is still looking at the issue, with assurances its approach being “proportionate, with robust safeguards in place.”

One of the key issues is understood to be the problem that there are many more personal devices, including phones and tablets, in use than the number of internet protocol (IP) addresses. This makes it difficult for authorities to reliably identify who sent an e-mail or made a voice-over-IP call at any given time. In this regard, the text of the Queen’s speech states, “In relation to the problem of matching Internet protocol addresses, my government will bring forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace.”

It continues, “This is not about indiscriminately accessing Internet data of innocent members of the public; it is about ensuring that police and other law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to investigate the activities of criminals that take place online as well as offline.”

Brian Davidson, CIPP/E, is a privacy and information law advisor at Field Fisher Waterhouse, LLP.