Does the government want to snoop on your data?

Does the government really want you to tell them everything? And what are its new communications-watching plans all about? Simon Brew finds out more…

That latter point got a little lost in the initial furore, too. Whilst the government is insistent that there will not be a central database, there's still a requirement for communications to be stored, and the onus for that is inevitably continuing to fall onto Internet service providers. The increased information they will now have to store has led to reasonable fears that they're footing the bill for the latest government plan, and that cost is almost certainly set to be passed on to the end user.

It's not just cost, though. There's also a substantive technical challenge involved: you certainly don't have to look far for failed or flawed attempts to hold enormous amounts of data. Given that much of the information involved isn't material that ISPs are currently storing, there's a massive technological demand that's about to be added to their workload.

There's still some way to go for the legislation before it hits the statute books, of course. Assuming it's included in the Queen's Speech (which it's almost certain to be), that's the point where we'll get deeper detail as to just what the government has planned. Presumably, its tactic in leaking the story ahead of the official announcement was deliberate, to get the worst parts of the story in the public domain sooner. How successful that approach turns out to be remains to be seen.

There's still the small matter of Parliamentary process to go through, and as is becoming the norm, there's serious dissent within the coalition government emerging. It jars with the apparent principles of the Liberal Democrats, and backbench Conservatives are believed to be uneasy, too.

What will probably aid the eventual bill in becoming law is the fact that it's a variant of a Labour party proposal, and thus the opposition may find it a little difficult to fully oppose the measure. A lot depends on what final shape it takes.

The challenge

There's a contentious road ahead, nonetheless, although equally controversial bills have been passed in recent times. Given the distance from a general election, these new measures are highly likely to pass quite quickly. The ramifications, though, will be far more long lasting, and it'll be interesting to see whether abuse of such valuable data can be prevented, and if the data itself can be managed convincingly at all.

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