EU Directive forces ISPs to hold email/VoIP records

From yesterday details of every email and VoIP calls sent and made have to be stored by ISPs under the terms of an EU Directive. It was drawn up in 2005, after the London bombings, on the grounds it would help fight terrorism and organised crime.

The stored information will not contain the conversation during VoIP calls nor the content of the emails, but simply reveal who contacted who when and for how long in the case of phone calls. The authorities have to obtain a warrant to access the records, but armed with a warrant, the police and many other public bodies can gain access.

As ever, the British government is the most enthusiastic to spy on its population and agreed to reimburse ISPs for the additional costs to quell their protests. (Sweden has determined to ignore the Directive altogether and the issue is making its way through the courts in Germany.)

And it is considered risible when the UK government says it has "effective safeguards" in place - data on every child and tax payer in the country has potentially been compromised on the current administration's watch through ludicrous episodes such as civil servants posting disks containing millions of records, which promptly disappeared, and leaving memory sticks on trains.

The way in which the Directive was bulldozed through doesn't inspire confidence either.

In the wake of that devastation on 7th July - just over a year after the outrage of the Madrid bombing, which killed 191 people and injured hundreds more - it was hard to argue against anything that promised to prevent further atrocities: in such situations rational argument is overpowered by the attitude of those who aren't with us are against us - as President Bush knew after 9/11.

The Directive was treated as a commercial matter by the EU, rather than a policing issue, which meant it was ushered through on a single parliamentary vote instead of needing the agreement of all member states, according to the BBC.

Worse, being a Directive means that it passes into each member state's national legislation without national parliamentary debate, much less a vote. Henry Porter in The Guardian newspaper, among many others,  alleges that the UK's Home Office routinely bypasses Parliament by lobbying Europe directly to get tricky legislation through without the irritation of dealing with that cornerstone of democracy, Parliament (more on the implications of this practice for telecoms tomorrow - US telcos are trying it too to establish precedent).

The really big worry for the Brits is that this is the precursor to the creation of a massive data bank that stores what was written and said in all phone calls, VoIP and otherwise, and emails in the name of public safety.

The British are already the most filmed population in the world, with a CCTV camera on just every corner (although there is no evidence to prove they improve public safety) and this next intrusive step could be implemented without the general populace being aware of it, much less letting their MP know what they think about it.