UK Mobile phone records earn providers £8m from the Police

Several mobile phones
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A brief item on the BBC Politics Show caught my eye today. They reported on the approx £8M paid by UK Police Forces and related authorities to retrieve Mobile Phone records from service providers in the course of criminal investigations. Apart from the size of the figures involved, I was shocked that investigating authorities had to pay at all.

Way back when I dealt with the Telecommunications UK Fraud Forum (TUFF) and was struggling to understand the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000, at no time was there any provision for providers to charge for such access. The basic premise was that communications providers – including ISPs – were required to provide access to records for routine searches (and, if Part III of the Act was enforced, to provide access to cryptographic keys too). It was a nightmare and there were fundamental issues with understanding the requirements on providers; indeed, there were arguably conflicts with the then nascent Human Rights legislation coming out of Europe.

I have no issue with access to such data but, even as a creature of the industry, I have serious concerns that companies turning over £15billion per annum should be able to make a profit from such provision. Controls are essential to protect privacy and the mechanism for access must be strictly controlled and recorded. Sure – this costs the mobile phone companies. However, there was never any indication that smaller outfits coping with alternative technologies – VOIP, ISPs, Calling Card companies and Voice Resellers – could obtain compensation for the significant expense of provide interception and data warehousing capabilities required by the UK Government. Why then are the Mobile Phone networks a special case ?

I must concede that I am somewhat out of date with current practices and legislation here. However, I am slightly concerned that once again, our withering, elected powers-that-be succumb to the slightest pressure from those most influential. The Mobile networks are huge money factories and the future continues to look good for them as data moves mobile too – good news for them and I fully support the business. However, the government must take steps to unify the rules on such charging (I accept they may have already done so but I cannot find the evidence) as well as to ensure that every request is comprehensively recorded and monitored by the Information Commissioner’s Office. Let’s forget Ofcom in this scenario (industry insiders will know whereof I speak !)

I would love to get feedback on this so please feel free to comment.

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