The Communications Data Bill announced in the Queen's Speech proposes to update the law on how and what information is collected and retained to ensure that law enforcement and intelligence agencies continue to have access to communications data. In 2008 the Labour Government sought to bring in a Communications Data Bill on similar lines but it was dropped due to opposition.
While the Bill has not yet been published, it is understood that the Bill will establish an updated framework for the collection and retention of communications data by service providers so that emails, phone calls and internet use can be monitored by law enforcement bodies. It has been stressed that this will not include the content of emails or conversations on a phone. The information collected would include the time and duration of the communication, the telephone number or email address which has been contacted and the location of the origin of the communication.
Unsurprisingly, privacy campaigners have expressed concern. While security experts say that we need to keep pace with technological change and enable the law to allow monitoring of new methods of communication such as Skype and social media.
There will be strict safeguards such as measures to protect the data from unauthorised access and a 12 month limit for which the data may be retained. It is understood that the Information Commissioner will have some responsibility for reviewing the security and destruction measures. In addition, the commissioner responsible for scrutinising MI5's interception of communications (the Interception of Communications Commissioner) will have greater powers to oversee the collection of this data. The role of the Investigatory Powers Tribunal will also be extended to provide individuals with a means to complain and request an independent review.
The Information Commissioner's Office has issued a statement (which Gary has already retweeted).