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FIPR Press Release - FIPR welcomes Commissioners' rejection of data retention

FOR IMMEDIATE USE : 16 September 2002

The Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) welcomes the recent statement from Europe's Data Protection Commissioners rejecting the current proposals for mandatory data retention by phone companies and ISPs.

The UK and other EU governments have put forward proposals to force ISPs and phone companies to stockpile many years of customer records, on the off-chance they will be useful for police surveillance. This data would include catalogues of web sites visited, records of e-mail recipients, lists of telephone numbers dialled, and the geographical location of mobile phones at all times they were switched on.

Following their meeting in Cardiff last week, the Commissioners have "grave doubt as to the legitimacy and legality of such broad measures". They are also worried about the "excessive costs" to telephone and Internet companies, and note the absence of any similar measures in the United States.

The Commissioners reiterated their view that "such retention would be an improper invasion of the fundamental rights guaranteed to individuals", and commented that "systematic retention of all kinds of traffic data for a period of one year or more would be clearly disproportionate."

This is a particularly timely warning for the UK, where the government is still attempting to implement the December 2001 Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act. The voluntary scheme in Section 101 is now widely seen to be impossible to implement in a lawful manner and the Home Office is known to be considering moving to compulsory measures.

With mounting concern over the costs involved, the Government has been watering down the timescales for retention, with six months being suggested and just four days for web site data. However, John Abbott, the Director General of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) proposed in a Guardian interview (Sat 14 Sep) that traffic data should be stored for two years, though this is still a somewhat of a retreat from his August 2000 proposals for data warehouses containing seven years worth of information.

FIPR fully agrees with the Data Protection Commissioners that mandatory data retention is an entirely disproportionate invasion of British citizens' privacy. FIPR also notes that the enormous costs of this data retention will immediately fall on consumers as higher bills.

Ian Brown, Director of FIPR, commented: "Records of the web sites we visit, who we communicate with and where we go with our mobile phones paint a very detailed picture of our lives. Forcing phone and Internet companies to retain this data on all of their customers for years is a huge threat to the privacy of us all. This should not only be a debate about policing, but the dangers posed by having this treasure trove of information available for others to access, legitimately or otherwise."

Contacts for enquiries:

Ian Brown Director Foundation for Information Policy Research

Notes for editors

  1. The Foundation for Information Policy Research (, is a non-profit think-tank for Internet and Information Technology policy, governed by an independent Board of Trustees with an Advisory Council of experts.
  2. The Commissioners statement can be viewed at:
  3. The August 2000 NCIS proposals for data warehousing are at:
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