New Law Forces UK ISPs to Retain Your Private Emails

By Craig Buckler
We teamed up with SiteGround
To bring you the latest from the web and tried-and-true hosting, recommended for designers and developers. SitePoint Readers Get Up To 65% OFF Now

UK ISPs to store every emailA European Commission directive will come into force on 15 March 2009 that could require every UK internet service provider to retain a record of every email sent and received by British citizens. The legislation would force ISPs to keep details about the email sender and recipient for at least one year – including all spam. The email content does not need to be stored, but ISPs may choose to do so.

The Home Office insists that the data is vital for intelligence gathering in criminal and terrorist enquiries. However, your data could be requested by up to 500 UK public authorities, including the police, health services, and local councils.

Many ISPs have voluntarily implemented email recording systems and the rules already apply to telephone companies (although those records are kept for the purposes of customer billing). The Government are also considering plans for a single central database that would gather details of every telephone call, text message, email, website visit and all other internet activity.

Human rights groups such as Liberty have expressed concerns about the bill: monitoring every UK citizen on the off-chance of catching a criminal is considered to be a gross invasion of privacy.

The proposals may encounter a number of technical implementation flaws:

  • An estimated 210 billion emails are sent per day (the vast majority is spam). UK-only traffic accounts for a small proportion of this total, but the storage implications are massive.
  • The UK Government are likely to offer between £25 million and £70 million to pay toward data collection and storage. However, the Government’s record on IT project estimates, security and data loss does not inspire confidence.
  • The current proposals only cover email handled by UK ISPs. Criminals can still evade detection using webmail, instant messaging, forums, Facebook, Twitter or any number of non-UK systems than need not adhere to the legislation. The Italian police recently warned that criminals are adopting Skype to avoid wiretaps.
  • How will the Government deal with shared or hacked email accounts?

Finally, the system must operate under existing UK laws, including the Data Protection Act. The Government must guarantee data integrity, allow individuals access to data held about them, and handle updates to inaccurate information. This could incur significant staffing costs but the organisation will be unable to charge an individual any more than £10 for the service.

What do you think? Is the UK Government right to track all internet traffic in the interests of national security? Are we dangerously approaching a full-surveillance society?

We teamed up with SiteGround
To bring you the latest from the web and tried-and-true hosting, recommended for designers and developers. SitePoint Readers Get Up To 65% OFF Now
  • markfiend

    The Government must guarantee data integrity, allow individuals access to data held about them, and handle updates to inaccurate information.


    Anyone else fancy the chances of this actually happening?

    *chirp of crickets*

    Thought not.

    Is the UK Government right to track all internet traffic in the interests [of] national security? Are we dangerously approaching a full-surveillance society?

    No and yes. Patently.

    We in the UK are the most spied-upon nation in Europe, and it completely fails to make us any safer. (7/7 anyone?) Even if it did improve our safety it wouldn’t be worth the cost to our privacy.

  • adie

    well join my new party (to be launched very very soon) and when we get in, we’ll take us out of europe, put money in your pockets and drop all this nonsense – sectioned not only by successive tory and labour governments, but our dumb monarch (who will also go – we’ll become a republic).

    no messing – i want candidates and agents right acrosss the uk ready for the next by-election.

  • F.Danials


    Why should we trust the Government to store more information about us, they can’t secure the data they currently hold. We may as well just give are data to any Tom, Dic or Harry, as once are data is released to the Government, this is where it will end up anyway!

    They have already lost an unencrypted Laptop, Memory Stick, and Hard Drive containing our private data! – How much more could they loose?

  • Michael

    Don’t be silly, of course this isn’t a police state.

  • This is quite considerably the worst idea ever.

    A quote, if you will allow me:
    The former head of MI5 has warned the government it risks creating a “police state” by exploiting fears over terrorism to erode civil liberties. [source 1=”″ language=”:”][/source]

    Monitoring certain people should be easy if you have enough evidence to suggest it is necessary. This kind of broad-stroke is not going to assist counter-“terrorism” by that much, however what it does do is erode the basis of civil liberty, piece by piece.

    It is no good simply saying ‘if you have nothing to hide etc’ because that is a reductionist approach which falls happily into the hands of these already insane and immoral legislators.

    Next up, it will be free speech. They’ve been trying to poke holes in that one for a while too.

  • Anonymously

    Nothing to hide, nothing to fear. Right, or no?

  • Anonymously

    SPAM too?? The wonders of wasteful politics.

  • picasso-trigger


    Nothing to hide, nothing to fear. Right, or no?

    I can’t speak for the UK, as I’m in the US but I agree with that to a point, but what happens when your opinion differs from the government’s opinion? In the Clinton years, the Clintons had a rap (unknown to many) for sicking IRS audits on people they felt to be “problems”. I’m expecting much worse under Obama but that’s just my opinion.

    Let’s just face it people … when Google can show satellite images of us fixing our cars in our driveways, we’ve already lost this battle.

    The internet is the ultimate tool for monitoring the people. And then we hear about Facebook saying “we own the data”. It makes you think.

    So I think the point is … don’t say certain things IF you fear for your future comfort.

    This is just the beginning though I think.

    It’s the not the pointy headed guys in bunkers scanning for terrorism leads … it’s the “other” organizations that make me queezy.

  • Anon

    Governments should not exist. They have absolutely no right to invade privacy like this.

    I do agree with the previous poster that this is just the beginning. They are going to enforce laws that make us nothing more than mere sheep.

    Its no wonder so many people are terrorists.

  • audiopleb

    I simply couldn’t care less to be honest, if they want to see my e-mails to my chums about what i plan to plant in my allotment then they are welcome to it. The only thing that bothers me is that most of it will be a waste of my tax paying money.

    Then again if they’ve got any ideas a about how to keep slugs off my cabbages i’m all for the idea….

  • It’ll likely be ineffectual at preventing crime, just as the Australian governments nation-wide internet filter is likely to be ineffectual at protecting kids. I think the criminal masterminds will sidestep the logging by using webmail instead. If they don’t already.

    I wonder if the millions of ‘CCTV in Operation’ signs around the UK will be updated to ‘CCTV and Email monitoring in Operation’?

  • As someone who got filmed by the police when demonstrating against the barbaric unprovoked attack on Iraq, such “security” measures from New Labour, come as no surprise to me.

    Equally as futile as filming me, as I’m never going to be a terrorist!

    For those who don’t know, the vast majority of politicians in the UK (and most other places I suppose) have no grasp on reality.

    After the disgrace that was the attack on Iraq, Britain has become a prime target for reprisal attacks. Blair brought it on us, following Bush’s orders, and everything that has followed including the waste of time, money and effort that this latest wheeze is.

    Politics and web design? :o)

    P.S. I have debated this many times over the years and I don’t currently have the stomach to get into another one, I get rather involved, so with respect, I won’t be reading any replies to this.

  • tiggsy

    I gave up using isp-provided email addresses some 5 years ago. The problem when you move from one isp to another is pretty serious. So now I use yahoo mainly, and some on my own domains, as well.

  • Bob Carologees

    personally i think it has to be done. if its not, how can the government protect us against terrorism. i think people need to wake up and understand the constant danger we are in, they could strike at any moment. in my opinion if you are against this proposal you basically support osama bin laden. traitors!

  • jdenyer

    @Bob Carolgees. That’s what the government and The Daily Mail (et al) want you to think.

    What next? Facebook: Gordon Brown has added you as a friend

  • Irate Net Addict

    TBQFH, I work online every day, I play online very day, it enables a lot of stuff in my life and I would be lost without it but guff like this just makes me want to drop it all and go live on a farm.

    The government has no idea what they are doing, they put us in trillions of debt, put our lives at risk just cause they didn’t get what they wanted and decided to invade numerous countries. They hand our data out to everyone for a few quid and cannot be trusted in the slightest!

    Next thing you know the tax man will be examining your invoices before you see them cause they have all the email before you get them (only good if I never have to file again).

    They dont get anything that they are currently doing right so why bite off more and screw it up folks lives even more?

    Anyways… *insert abusive language here* towards this dubious plot and props to sitepoint for being sitepoint and doing things right!

    Sitepoint for government!

  • Andrew W

    Nothing to hide, nothing to fear. Right, or no?

    Oh really? Mind if I put a webcam in your bedroom, make your bathroom walls glass, make you change clothes in the front yard, record your discussions with your mates down the local for rebroadcasting over your office PA?

    Also, picasso-trigger, to bring up Clinton and say you’re afraid of Obama without bringing up the widespread invasions of privacy of the last eight years speaks volumes. I’ll take an IRS audit over extraordinary rendition and torture anyday.

  • Andrew W

    in my opinion if you are against this proposal you basically support osama bin laden. traitors!

    First off, stuff your “traitors” talk. The traitors are the people welcoming the curtailing of our rights and freedoms in light of some boogeyman.

    Secondly, if you really think this makes you safer, you haven’t been paying attention. None of these new methods of surveillance have ever borne fruit. If anything, security and law enforcement experts say it makes you less safe. It diverts person-power to trawling through pointless tonnes of information of questionable-at-best value. That time could be spent doing what actually works: good old fashioned investigation and detective work.

    To put it in terms even someone who calls me a traitor can understand: when you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, is the solution to make the haystack BIGGER?

  • Bob Carologees

    you clearly done have a clue what you are talking about

    did you not learn anything from 7/7? anyone that doesnt support the war on terror imo should be deported from the country because they arent truly british

    the government can have any information they want in my eyes, if it helps catch those terrorists that are out to get us. you might think its pointless, but if it were pointless then maybe you wouldnt still be alive? who knows what kind of nuclear attack might have occurred if it wasnt for the army and government protecting us. support the troops, support the government, if not you are traitor imo and should be lined up and shot.

  • Andrew W

    … you are traitor imo and should be lined up and shot

    Then shoot me, Carlogees (or deport me, as you suggest … hey, its easy, I’m just living here on a visa). A quick googling of the Sitepoint comments shows you as someone not worth debating. In this instance all you can spout is cries of traitor and plotlines from 24. You have not presented a single fact but you’re happy to call for my execution.

    I repeat, and this is all provable: increased surveillance causes person-hour shortages that distract from the actual police work that really does keep us safe. Increased surveillance of individuals in the UK has not led to any disruptions of any terrorist plots. It has, however, allow councils to ticket more people who don’t pick up their dog crap.

    The government has proven itself singularly incapable of handling personal information. If anything, their collection this information makes you less safe in ways about which you should actually be concerned. You’re far more likely to be the victim of fraud, identity theft, discrimination or any one of a number of day-to-day crimes than you are to fall prey to a terrorist plot. Every one of those scenarios is made far more likely by the government collection a detailed dossier on you. Not only that: imagine they get it wrong? They do that a lot. You may find yourself jailed or shipped abroad to have you genitals shocked because they botched some broad-stroke email collection or poor analysis of daily habits. This has already happened to numerous innocents.

  • markfiend

    I think “Bob Carologees” is trying to be a parody-Daily-Mail-reader. And failing to be funny.

    On the off-chance that I’m wrong: I think it’s you who failed to learn from 7/7. The surveillance state did NOTHING to prevent the attacks (nor the copy-cat ones two weeks later).

  • if not you are traitor imo and should be lined up and shot.

    @bob carologees

    The difference between you and us freedom lovers is that I want to allow you to think the way you want and believe what you want and I don’t want to get all the people like you that have a different opinion and line you up and shot you.

  • It worries me when I hear things like “full-surveillance society” and a “single central database” we are for sure being led into it. It’s not about having nothing to hide for me, it is what happens if this information gets into the wrong hands? After all who watches the watcher?

  • This is laughable and I dont mean in a good way.

    So lets say I’m a terrorist and know my emails are stored. Would I use email?

    Now I switch to IM untill they decide that all IM’s are to be stored for a year LOL.

    Then I get a foreign IP adress and use craftysyntax (private chat) on https until they decide that everything encrypted gets stored for a year.

    Then I get https vpn tunneling and set up my own app until they require all https vpn tunneling activity recorded on file for a year.

    At this point how much data are they storing?

    At this point I would go to a “known” code. “I am going to bake some cookies with nutmeg”. I know what that means and so do my terrorist buddies, The government sure got a tasty nugget from that and now they have a keyword rich string to search for LMAOL.

    The ISP’s and the law abiding public just got screwed, terrorists are free to do what they want.

    This is not anti terrorism, instead it is politico insanity run amuck.

    BTW we have some thing similar here in the US and check out all of the comments.

  • To follow up on my last post. why not make it illegal for terrorists to not use anything but email for their correspondance. There you go, problem solved!

    I should be a national security expert, at least my logic is sound.

    Also put cameras and microphones in everyones house and in every room, If you are not doing anything wrong it should not be a problem. If you have a problem with that, you must be doing something wrong and you should be water boarded.

    Man, the logic of some people. (shakes my head)

  • 46Bit

    In some ways if this continues for much longer, I and everyone else in this country would rather be killed by a terrorist than live in this police state.

  • Clint

    Another example of labours “Control everything” policy.

    We need to protect human rights, by first ensuring the internet remains open and not monitored by Big Brother.