The British government is in the process of developing a scheme whereby all phone companies and broadband internet providers will be required to store customer transaction data for a year and hand it over to security services upon request.
The databases would also include Facebook communications, Twitter posts -- including direct messages between subscribers -- and even communications between players in online video games.
According to the Telegraph, the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP) is already being attacked by privacy advocates as offering a license for abuse and as raising the "Big Brother" potential for universal surveillance. The British government, however, views it as a "vital" tool against terrorism and serious crime, and the legislation to put it into effect is expected to be proposed in May.
The information to be stored would not include the content of calls or emails but would consist of phone numbers and email addresses. These would would who was communicating with whom on what occasions and could also make it easy for police to track the movements of cellphone and computer users.
The plan has aroused concerns not only over civil liberties but also because hackers could potentially exploit the massive databases, which would be maintained by the companies and not by the government itself.
“This will be ripe for hacking" Gus Hosein of Privacy International stated. "Every hacker, every malicious threat, every foreign government is going to want access to this."
"The internet companies will be told to store who you are friends with and interact with," he added. "While this may appear innocuous it requires the active interception of every single communication you make, and this has never been done in a democratic society.”
There are also fears that service providers might use the information as a basis for directing targeted advertising to computers and mobile phones.
A similar scheme was proposed by the Labour government in 2009 but withdrawn due to public opposition. At that time, the Conservatives accused Labour of being "reckless" with regard to privacy, but now the Conservative government itself has revived the scheme, allegedly after the security services lobbied Home Secretary Theresa May.
The Open Rights Group has an anti-CCDP petition at its website, which describes the plan as "pointless," "expensive," and "illegal" and expresses the intention of forming a mass movement to oppose it.
Photo by Colin Babb [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons