Data retention – the UK experience

We were sold data retention on the promise that it would be used to deal with terrorism and serious crime. Now the government is trying to water down that promise by redefining serious crime to include very minor offences. Recent news from the UK shows why this is a risk – if left unchallenged, government bodies will eventually use this information for even trivial matters.
From the Telegraph:

Councils have used laws designed to combat terrorism to access more than 900 people’s private phone and email records in the latest example of Britain’s growing surveillance state.

Town hall spies found out who residents were phoning and emailing as they investigated such misdemeanours as dog quarantine breaches and unlicensed storage of petrol.

The news prompted fresh calls from civil rights groups for a reform of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which was originally brought in to combat terrorism and serious crime but is increasingly being used by councils to snoop on members of the public.

In April a council in Dorset used Ripa powers to spy for weeks on a family it wrongly suspected of breaking rules on school catchment areas. Other local authorities have used covert surveillance to investigate such petty offences as dog fouling and under-age smoking….

Bolton Council used the Act to check a person’s mobile phone records as part of an investigation into unburied animal carcasses.

Kent County Council carried out 23 telephone subscriber checks during two inquiries into storing petrol without a licence and into a resident it suspected of bringing a dog into the UK without putting it in quarantine.

And Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council in the West Midlands carried out 16 phone and email checks, six of which involved an attempt to locate and identify an alleged bogus faith healer