Real-time monitoring legislation under fire | DMA

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Real-time monitoring legislation under fire


Government plans to introduce real-time monitoring of communications data, including emails, telephone calls and social media have come under fire from business and data privacy campaigners.

Communications monitoring is nothing new. Intelligence officers already have the power to access to historic communications data held by internet service providers (ISPs) and telecommunications companies under the Data Retention Directive.

Real-time access to data
The big change is the real time access to data from newer technologies such as Skype and social networking sites. The question is whether ISPs and other internet firms are in a position to comply with the law.

Data privacy expert and senior associate at Pinsent Masons law firm, Kathryn Wynn, told IT Pro earlier this month: “Whether this is feasible or not depends on whether there is the technology available to deliver that information quickly. Otherwise, ISPs will struggle to comply through no fault of their own.”

The new legislation, expected to be announced in the Queen's Speech in May, will enable GCHQ (the UK intelligence agency), to monitor data from internet communications in real time without a warrant. However, a warrant would be needed to access the content.

Data privacy issues of real time monitoring
This raises data privacy concerns among human rights campaigners and the EU Commission. A spokesperson for the Commission said: “The Government’s email and web monitoring plans would potentially be incompatible with the right to privacy of many ordinary people in the UK.”

Last year, the UK Government had to amend the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) after the Commission referred the UK to the European Court of Justice. RIPA states that it is only legal to intrude on private communications if the intelligence officers have a warrant or the sender and recipient have given their consent.

The UK Government will therefore need to take account of privacy when drafting the law. Wynn told “Any new legislation requiring ISPs and other internet companies to provide GCHQ with real time access to communication data must be carefully drafted to avoid non-compliance with EU law.”

Real-time monitoring and big data
On a more positive note, the proposed law will compel businesses to strengthen their privacy policies and could even open the door to big data. Research director at IDC, Alys Woodward told that ISPs would have to implement sophisticated technology to filter communications data to comply with the requirement to monitor real time activity.

Contact Sara Cameron, 020 7291 3360.

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