Data Retention – what is it all about?

Perhaps you have read something about data retention, but it all sounds too technical to bother about. Well, think of it like this. Image that a little man in a bowler hat suddenly starts following you everywhere you go. He has a notebook, and in it he writes down the name of everybody you talk to. He also writes down the length of each conversation, and where you were at the time. He keeps doing this for at least a year, and maybe three years. He soon has a complete list of all your friends, business contacts, everybody you have spoken to. Are you having an affair, are you engaged in confidential business negotiations, or maybe just addicted to calling sex chat lines? The little man has it all written down. Don’t worry though. He is just doing it to protect you. Your secrets are safe with him.

The little man works for the government, but you are not sure which part. The police, MI5, Inland Revenue, Customs & Excise; he is not saying, and you cannot find out. Nor can you find out what he is doing with this information. What kind of impression is he forming of you? Is he writing all the stuff down correctly? You don’t know and you cannot find out.

He also writes down the title of every book, every newspaper and every magazine that you read. Again, don’t worry; he is just doing it to protect you. As long as you are not a troublemaker you have nothing to fear.

Welcome to the world of data retention. What it is all about is keeping a record of all your telephone calls, instant messages, web browsing and emails. That’s the data that is being retained. At the moment it is being kept for one year. The UK Government has persuaded the EU to pass EU wide data retention legislation.

Why are they doing this? To keep us safe is the official answer. Because the police and MI5 want the information is a better answer. The police always ask for more powers. It’s a win-win situation for them. If they get the powers they might come in useful. If they don’t they have an excuse for failure. Will data retention help the police? Yes, it will. So would us all having a barcode tattooed on out foreheads and being electronically tagged.

Will it hurt us if they have this information? After all, you have nothing to hide. Well, it would not hurt you if somebody came around to your house tonight and looked through your bathroom window, or, read your mail, or riffled through your possessions.

My worry is that it gives the state too much information about us, and information is power. I wonder how many MPs really understand what is going on. Are you a dissident MP? Maybe you made an unwise telephone call to Miss Whiplash a couple of years ago. A quick call from the little man to a friendly journalist at the Sun and you will soon be back in line. Are you a journalist with a nice stable of confidential sources? If you plan on keeping them confidential you had better start communicating by smoke signals.

Are you engaged in a lucrative business deal? Let’s hope the little man is trustworthy, and doesn’t get to thinking about a little private enterprise. Do you and your friends want to organise a campaign against some government policy? Thanks to the wonders of traffic analysis the little man will soon know all your names and will be writing them down on his list of troublemakers to be dealt with later.

Police states do not suddenly appear, like somebody leaping out of a cupbooard to scare us. It is a gradual process. All we have to do to lose all our liberties is do nothing.

Click on the data retention label to the right for more posts on the topic.

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