The BBC's Politics Show broadcast last Sunday, has collated some Freedom of Information Act disclosures on the financial payments made by Police Forces to mobile phone companies, to reimburse them for the cost of providing Mobile Phone Communications Traffic Data.
[hat tip to the BBC's Martin Rosenbaum and his Open Secrets blog about freedom of information]:
The Politics Show has used Freedom of Information requests to find figures for 49 of the 52 regional police forces who, in total, spent £8.6m in the 2007/2008 financial year.
Twenty five forces spent over £100,000 and four spent over £500,000.
The Metropolitan Police Force was the largest, spending £1.4 million.
There is no standard fee for a search, and whilst it can be waived (and sometimes is) forces tend to be billed on a case by case basis.
The article quoted David Davis MP
On the Politics Show on 7 December, Former Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, said: "Companies should have a sense of civic responsibility, and in my view, that means this sort of material should be provided free."
Unless and until, other effective safeguards are put into place, e.g. making it a criminal offence to request a disproportionate amount of data from the telecomms companies and internet service providers, then these requests definitely should not be free.
If the telecomms companies did not make any financial charge to recover these costs, then there would be massive abuse by the Police, intelligence agencies and by the hundreds of Local Authorities and Government quangos, and other bureaucrats and by rich libel or copyright lawyers in civil cases via a court order etc. who are authorised under the the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to access such data.
They would be tempted to demand, as they have already done in the past, excessive amounts of data, wholly disproportionate to the investigations or cases which they are involved with,
Currently, there are no other effective safeguards to prevent this sort of disproportionate Communications Data snooping and trawling, only the financial cost and audit trail mechanism.
The Interception Commissioner, Rt. Hon. Sir Paul Kennedy, does not look at individual Data Protection Act 1998 section 29 exemption requests for Communications Traffic Data , which is outside of the remit of RIPA Commissioners under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act or the Police Act 1997 Part III. The Information Commissioner's Office, which deals with the Data Protection Act, certainly never vets individual request beforehand either, although they might eventually get around to investigating a complaint about an abuse, after the fact, providing that the victim actually knows about it and actually complains.
The Report of the Interception of Communications Commissioner for 2007 (.pdf) mentions in passing, without any detailed breakdown, the overall statistics for such Communications Data requests:
3.7 During the year ended 31 December, 2007, public authorities as a whole,
made 519,260 requests for communications data to Communication Service
This figure includes land line telephone and internet account subscriber details, as well as actual mobile phone subscriber details, itemised phone bill and mobile phone number called which other mobile or landline number, when , for how long and approximately from which mobile phone cell location.
At a guess, it is likely that a couple of hundred of thousand of these requests relate to the £8.5 million payment to mobile phone companies figure published by the BBC. This might make the cost of each request in the order of £20 pounds each, which is the same sort of figure which your bank or building society will charge you for a non-standard detailed statement of account etc..
Since there are commercial auditing systems which count the money charged for each Communications Data Request, these do provide some sort of audit trail, and these are a disincentive for disproportionate fishing expeditions and data trawling by inexperienced or poorly trained authorised people, or by malicious snoops.
It is one of the major fears that this sort of financial audit trail or budget based limitation on excessive data trawling, would be destroyed by the Home Office's plans for Yet Another Secret National Database of all such Communications Traffic Data requests, via the forthcoming Communications Data Bill , and via the necessary investment to keep GCHQ's intercept capabalities up to date with the Interception Modernisation Programme.
This would sneak around the involvement of telecomms and internet company staff and financial invoicing, payment and audit trails, allowing for unlimited, secret snooping, data matching and trawling, supposedly to catch terrorists etc., but which is just as likely to be abused by malicious insiders, for personal or political stalking and harassment, because of the inevitable bureaucratic secrecy, incompetence and corruption, just like all of the other Government computer systems have exhibited recently.
The cross party NO2ID Campaign against the database state, have a new Flash video on YouTube, entitled Take Jane, which illustrates the dangers of harassment, stalking, violence or murder via existing centralised systems, corrupted by authorised insiders, which the National Identity Scheme and any forthcoming secret national Communications Data database, will just make even worse.