10 Jul 2014

How the government controls your data: a timeline of data law

In 2009 the then Labour government introduced the Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations. It obliged mobile phone companies and internet service providers (ISPs) to keep communications data for one year. This included who you emailed or called, when and where.

(Important note: this did NOT include the actual content of the messages, eg. what you write in the email. To gather that requires sign-off by a secretary of state).


Last year the Conservatives tried to push through a bill which would have expanded the obligations on comms companies: for example, ISPs would have to keep records of which web pages we visit. It also expanded the ways in which government agencies could access the info collected.

Then in April, the European Court of Justice ruled that the 2009 UK rules went too far. Collecting and storing the data was a breach of human rights.

Overnight, comms companies were opened up to the threat of legal action from customers for continuing to collect their data.

Furthermore, if the mobile phone and internet companies started to delete the data, the government argues this would lead to the loss of vital leads in criminal and counter-terror cases (police and intelligence agencies often only know in hindsight who they need to investigate).

So today the government has announced emergency legislation to legalise the powers already being used by comms companies. It claims it is “responding” to the ECJ ruling – but many will see this as a kind of over-ruling.

UPDATE 13:30pm

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4 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    So you can trust the neocons?

    Yeah, right…..like in weapons of mass destruction, invasions of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, dodgy dossiers, banking theft and now even the safety of our children.

    Believe that gang and you’ll believe anything. And you’ll deserve exactly what you get.

  2. adil says:

    My impression is that the argument is not valid at all. I am quite sure terrorists or gangsters or people with an intent to do ill are mostly able to cover their virtual tracks (you see people in spy films buying a cell phone and discarding it after a call). So, requesting storage of this information is of marginal use at best. It is a good own-goal by further adding to the argument to alienated and disaffected individuals that they are being victimised/spied upon by their government.

    In the not too distant past the increasing intrusiveness of the state into people’s lives was an indication that the state felt disconnected from its citizens and needed a strong hand to control them.

  3. Alan says:

    The regime is attempting to legitimise what it already covertly does. There is a very clear threat to our security and well being from a very clear source. It is our responsibility to protect ourselves from that source.

  4. Aidan Turner says:

    I have some doubts about the legality of what the Government is proposing to do. Under the European Communities Act 1972 and all subsequent Treaty amendments, the UK Parliament bound itself to follow European Law. European Law is passed by the various bodies of the EU (Commission, Council of Ministes and Parliament) and interpreted and enforced by the ECJ. The European Convention on Human Rights is now a condition of EU membership and the UK was an original Treaty signatory anyway. So by trying to annul the ECJ decision, the UK Parliament and Government risks breaching its conditions of EU membership and the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights. UK citizens would have a potential redress in damages/injunction.

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