It is not surprising that a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling has awoken a debate about a so-called snoopers' charter, but there are several debates getting confused here. People are being tempted to conflate "interception" with "surveillance", which is wrong.
To think that forcing companies to retain data is somehow enhancing the powers the government already has is wrong. In essence, all the government is doing is making up for the fact that its previous legislation on this matter has left a hole in the existing capability.
What is fascinating about the way this has been positioned is that this law will actually only last until 2016, thereby forcing a debate on all the issues raised following the Snowden leaks.
It's also interesting that in enacting this legislation, there are extra safeguards being put in place, including further overseeing authorities.
This legislation may be seen as a necessary evil – although it is clear that all parties agree a debate is worth having – to ensure a proper balance of liberty against security.
The next two years will be an interesting time for this subject.
Essentially, businesses will be asked to simply carry on doing what they have been doing already. If anything, this new legislation is to stop companies adopting the ECJ ruling, which decided that the data and information retention they already undertake on behalf of the government is an invasion of the fundamental right to privacy.
It really applies only to telecommunications companies or others providing communications over public networks. What's more, it continues to be a very restricted data set – that is, who communicated with whom, when and from where.
Companies have been willing to support government in this activity. However, many have expressed concern since this ECJ ruling in April that they may fall foul of the European regulations unless the UK government passes its legislation.
Alan Woodward is a visiting professor and security specialist in the Department of Computing at the University of Surrey
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