U.K. proposes massive database to monitor cell and Net communications

Passports may be required to purchase prepaid SIM cards.

Published October 20, 2008 10:05PM (EDT)

Last week, across the pond in the United Kingdom, British officials, led by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, have led a call for a massive new spy bill containing a huge central database (formally known as the Communications Data Bill) of all mobile phone and Internet traffic. Apparently the times and dates of messages and calls would be stored, while the content of the conversations and e-mails would not be.

Not surprisingly, the proposal has been met with a great deal of opposition from privacy advocates, and even from within the Home Office.

As the Times of London wrote Sunday:

This weekend a top law enforcement body further dented the government's case for the database. Jack Wraith, of the data communications group of the Association of Chief Police Officers, described the plans as "mission creep." He said there was an "inherent fear" of the data falling into the wrong hands.

"If someone's got enough personal data on you and they don't afford it the right protection and that data falls into the wrong hands, then it becomes a threat to you," he said.

Further, in addition to the general controversy of the entire proposal, it also came out Sunday that British mobile phone users would have to register both new and current mobile phones (including prepaid accounts) with the government. The newspaper reports that out of Britain's 72 million mobile phones, over half (40 million) are prepaid. Further, new prepaid mobile phones, which can easily be bought with cash anonymously, would require showing a passport or other official form of I.D.

As Salon's own Andrew Leonard wrote back in late July, prepaid phones are highly profitable, and even if they make it easier for would-be "evildoers," that doesn't mean that you have to make it that much more difficult for the vast majority of people who just want to get SIM cards quickly and easily. In most countries I've traveled to, ranging from Finland to Senegal, it's insanely easy to get a prepaid SIM card, and usually the minimum price is only a few dollars to simply have a number that you can receive free calls on. I would argue that we can sacrifice a little security so that more people can have access to communications more easily than they otherwise would be able to.

Plus, if the British spies are anything like our National Security Agency, they'll be able to pass around phone sex calls pretty soon.

By Cyrus Farivar

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