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Collecting UK internet records for Snoopers Charter could cost £1 billion

A new report from the 'Don't Spy on US' coalition estimates that it would cost £1 billion to collect and retain the internet connection records (ICRs) of all UK citizens. This same amount of money could be used to employ 3,000 full-time police officers to protect against real world crime.

Don't Spy on US, which includes the Open Rights Group and Privacy International, used a similar plan proposed in Denmark to arrive at its estimate. The professional services firm Ernst and Young found that collecting and storing the country's ICRs would cost £105 million a year. However large cost of the operation led to Denmark scraping its plans to collect its Citizens internet connection records.

The UK has a population which is seven times larger than Denmark and with the added costs of setting up the necessary infrastructure to collect and retain ICRs these costs could easily reach £1 billion.

Lord Paddick, the Liberal Democrat Spokesman on home affairs in the House of Lords, believes that government's plans to enact such an operation in the UK is unfeasible. It might not even be possible for the government to store such a large amount of data and its usefulness to the police is still unproven.

Collecting and retaining the ICRs of all UK citizens might also have detrimental to the security of citizens private sensitive data if it were to fall into the hands of cybercriminals.

Now that an estimate for funding such an operation has been put forth it appears like a bad move financially, given how easily cybercriminals could gain access to such valuable data.

The director of Don't Spy on US - Eric King - hopes that the large estimate of the price of collecting ICRs in the UK will serve as a deterrent and convince the government to abandon the idea. Still the government has been forcing Internet Service Providers to collect ICRs despite their continued pleas regarding the amount of money it is costing them to do so.

Hopefully this report will persuade the government that the financial cost along with the cost to citizens freedom in the UK outweighs the minimal benefits from collecting ICRs.

Phil Smith, Head of Product at Smoothwall, commented: “The news that the Government is planning to track internet connections and keep a record of every site visited may be controversial but the goal to protect people online is the right one. However, it will be completely pointless if that monitoring is not done smartly. You cannot simply monitor people’s search terms and activity – you need to add context, identifying harmful pages based on their content rather than generic search terms. Not everything online is damaging. The majority of content is hugely beneficial. As such, searches should become intent-based rather than event-based, assessing the behaviours of searches together and deciphering whether it has negative connotations and needs to be monitored.

“In schools for instance, measures are taken to protect children as they use the web, monitoring searches for harmful content. However, outside of that environment they are vulnerable, so why wouldn’t we expect a service such as this to be utilised nationally? Schools are expected to monitor activity on children in this area, yet potentially dangerous and threatening adults in the general public aren't being monitored in the same way. There is a responsibility to the entire population to enforce web monitoring for certain topics, particularly when it comes to counter-terrorism measures. In the current climate, no household should be able to opt-out of monitoring of websites promoting radicalisation and extremism.

“It is important to ensure that it is used in a way that benefits everyone; enabling the police and law enforcement agencies to identify potential threats and keep the public safe, whilst not imposing themselves on innocent parties.

"If they are able to implement this and ensure that searches and records are done so in a smart and contextualised manner, it should not interfere with people’s daily lives.”

Image Credit: Yorkman / Shutterstock

Anthony Spadafora
After living and working in South Korea for seven years, Anthony now resides in Houston, Texas where he writes about a variety of technology topics for ITProPortal.