UK plans Australia-style data retention regime

The new bill seems to be a somewhat toned-down version of the controversial 'snooper's charter'

A U.K. counterterrorism bill would require ISPs to retain IP addresses in order to identify individual users of Internet services.

The proposed law is meant to bridge a "capabilities gap" that authorities face when trying to obtain communications data, said U.K. Home Secretary Theresa May, who introduced the bill, in a speech on Monday.

The measures will build on emergency legislation that the U.K. introduced during the summer, May said, who added that "it is not a knee-jerk response to a sudden perceived threat."

The measures include a requirement for ISPs to supply information allowing law enforcement to match an IP address to the person using a service.

In July, the U.K. government pushed through the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA), an emergency surveillance law. DRIPA replaced earlier legislation that the European Union court said interfered with fundamental privacy rights.

The new IP retention requirement proposed by May also builds on the Communications Data Bill that was blocked in April 2013 by the Liberal Democrats because they found it unworkable and disproportionate to the problems it sought to address. Better known as the "snoopers' charter," that bill would have required British ISPs and telecom providers to retain records of users' browsing activity and social media communications, among other things, and store them for law enforcement purposes.

May emphasized Monday that powers introduced in the new counterterrorism bill "are limited."

"They do not mandate the retention of and access to data that would in all cases identify a suspect who has, for example, been accessing servers hosting illegal content," she said. However, she added that she thought that the next Parliament would still need to re-examine the blocked Communications Data Bill.

May's plans were welcomed by the Liberal Democrats, who are part of the U.K.'s coalition government.

"The inclusion of IP address matching in the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill shows that the much wider and disproportionate proposals in the snoopers' charter will not be resurfacing under the Coalition Government," the party said. The Liberal Democrats have been in favor of IP address matching since it was recommended by the committee that did the pre-legislative scrutiny on the Communications Data Bill. That committee found that proposals for IP matching were the only part of that bill that did not reduce civil liberties.

U.K. civil rights group Big Brother Watch said that it is "perfectly reasonable" to provide the police with the ability to match an IP address to the person using a service.

"However, if such a power is required, then it should be subject to the widespread consultation and comprehensive scrutiny that has been sorely lacking to date with industry, civil society and the wider public when it comes to introducing new surveillance powers," Big Brother Watch cautioned. It added that the surveillance powers proposed by the Communications Data Bill were too broad in scope.

"Before setting her sights on reviving the snoopers' charter, the Home Secretary should address the fact that one of the biggest challenges facing the police is making use of the huge volume of data that is already available, including data from social media and Internet companies," said Big Brother Watch. Therefore, any proposal "must be based on a full and frank discussion with industry, be technically workable and not introduce by the back door excessive or unwarranted obligations for data to be collected."

The plans will be discussed in Parliament on Wednesday.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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