US ATTACK: U.K. asks ISPs, telcos to retain data

Shortly after the terrorist attacks in the U.S. last Tuesday, the U.K. government sent out a request to all U.K.-based ISPs (Internet service providers) and telecommunication companies to retain all communications-traffic data for the next month, a spokeswoman for the U.K. National High-Tech Crime Unit confirmed.

"The request went out under the Data Protection Act last Tuesday, basically as a way to preserve data. That is all we asked for at the moment, just in case the data needs to be looked at by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as part of their investigations. It is similar to preserving evidence in a crime scene," said Judy Prue, spokeswoman for the National High-Tech Crime Unit on Monday.

The FBI has issued a similar request under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to U.S.-based ISPs. Last week, Dulles, Virginia-based America Online Inc. and Atlanta-based EarthLink Inc. both acknowledged that they are cooperating with the FBI in the search for specific data that could possibly help identify those involved with the attacks.

British Telecommunications PLC (BT) acknowledged on Monday that it too is complying with the request by the U.K. government but declined to give any details. "All we could say publicly is that we will certainly comply with anything that the government would ask of us," a BT spokeswoman said.

The Data Protection Act usually keeps these same companies from saving traffic data for longer than a month and for any reason other than billing purposes. While the actual content of the data has not been requested, the government has asked for such information as IP (Internet protocol) addresses, individual telephone numbers dialed and how long those calls lasted, Prue said.

While the information requested under the Data Protection Act -- a request which is not legally binding -- seeks to track the path and locations of data traffic, a newly-introduced U.K. law, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), could be enacted to look more deeply into the content of communications-traffic data.

RIPA, which was passed last year and is in the process of being implemented, requires ISPs in the U.K. to track all data traffic passing through their computers and route it to the Government Technical Assistance Centre (GTAC). The GTAC has been established in the London headquarters of the U.K. security service, MI5 -- the U.K. equivalent of the FBI.

Under the provisions of the RIPA, the U.K. government -- specifically the Home Office and its head, the Home Secretary (a post currently held by David Blunkett) -- can demand encryption keys to any and all data communications, with a prison sentence of two years for those who do not comply with the order.

Furthermore, if a company official is asked to surrender an encryption key to the government, that individual is barred by law from telling anyone -- including their employer, be it senior management or security staff -- that they have done so. Guidelines for this "tipping-off" offense, as it is known, could leave an international company completely unaware that what it assumes is secure company data may be under investigation by MI5. Those violating the tipping-off offense can face up to five years in prison.

Officials at MI5 and the Home Office both declined to discuss any specifics of ongoing investigations, though the National High-Tech Crime Unit's spokeswoman kept the door open to the future possibility that RIPA may be used to look more deeply at saved data traffic.

"RIPA may come in (to the official investigation) at a future time, but at the moment our request is limited to the Data Protection Act. If information under RIPA is requested by the U.S., we will want to proceed within the proper legal channels," Prue said.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Laura Rohde

Computerworld
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?