British Balk at Government Getting a Discussion Database

The UK is up in arms this week — complete with torches and pitchforks — over the latest plan by the increasingly unpopular government's plan to build a database to hold copies of every email sent in the UK along with recordings of every phone call in the country.

Citing the need for enhanced measures to fight terrorists — a crusade inherited from the previous PM, well known for his close association with a certain American president cum arch-surveiler — Her Majesty's Government has proposed an extension to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act that would create a central database, maintained by the government, where recordings of phone calls and copies of email messages would be sent by providers. As yet, the government hasn't released any details on the logistics of how such a massive database would be maintained, nor have they spoken on plans to secure the system, which would be a valuable target not only for identity thieves and other criminal elements, but also corrupt government officials and agencies seeking to overstep their prerogative.

Data protection experts, as well as other government agencies, have been quick to oppose the project. The Information Commissioner's Office — the independent government body that regulates privacy matters — has said the country is "sleepwalking into a surveillance society," while privacy experts have accused the government of attending to "everything except security." They are well armed, given the government's record on privacy and security.

In November, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs revealed that two lightly-secured CDs had gone missing, containing the name, address, birthdate, and National Insurance number — the UK equivalent of a Social Security Number — of every family with a child under sixteen, along with bank account information for millions. The discs were sent to another government office via regular mail by low-level HMRC staffers in violation of departmental security procedures and the national Data Protection Act. The next month it was revealed that the National Health Service had lost personal, medical, and financial data on hundreds of thousands of patients. Then, to top it all off, a laptop bought on eBay turned up at a UK computer repair shop in February, and when the repairmen took it apart, they found a disc marked "Home Office" and "Confidential" wedged underneath — the nature of the data on the disc, and how it, along with an encrypted, official laptop turned up on eBay has never been disclosed.

All that is missing is allusions to Orwell — nope, wait, we've got those too.

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Justin Ryan is a Contributing Editor for Linux Journal.

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