UK e-mail law 'attack on rights'
Rules forcing internet companies to keep details of every e-mail sent in the UK are a waste of money and an attack on civil liberties, critics say.
From March all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will by law have to keep information about every e-mail sent or received in the UK for a year.
The government will pay the ISPs more than £25m to ensure work runs smoothly.
The Home Office insists the data, which does not include e-mails' content, is vital for crime and terror inquiries.
Dr Richard Clayton, a security researcher at the University of Cambridge's computer lab said the money could have been better spent.
He said:"There's going to be a record of every single e-mail which arrived addressed to you and all the e-mails you sent out via your ISP.
"That of course includes all the spam.
"I'd have liked to see more bobbies on an electronic beat investigating internet crimes.
This degree of storage is equivalent to having access to every second, every minute, every hour of your life
Earl of Northesk
"There are much better things to do to spend our billions on than snooping on everybody in the country just on the off chance that they're a criminal."
The new rules are due to come into force on 15 March, as part of a European Commission directive which could affect every ISP in the country.
The firms will have to store the information under the government's Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) and make it available to any public body which makes a lawful request.
That could include police, local councils and health authorities.
To help set up the system the government may end up paying ISPs between £25m and £70m.
The rules already apply to telephone companies, which routinely hold much of the data for billing.
The Earl of Northesk, a Conservative peer on the House of Lords science and technology committee, said it meant anyone's movements could be traced 24 hours a day.
"This degree of storage is equivalent to having access to every second, every minute, every hour of your life," he said.
Implementing the EC directive will enable UK law enforcement to benefit fully from historical communications data
"People have to worry about the scale, the virtuality of your life being exposed to round about 500 public authorities.
"Under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, privacy is a fundamental right... it is important to protect the principle of privacy because once you've lost it it's very difficult to recover."
The Home Office said the data was a vital tool for investigation and intelligence gathering.
"It will allow investigators to identify suspects, examine their contacts, establish relationships between conspirators and place them in a specific location at a certain time.
"Implementing the EC directive will enable UK law enforcement to benefit fully from historical communications data in increasingly complex investigations and will enhance our national security."
But the industry itself has concerns about how the new rules will work.
Malcolm Hutty, from LINX (London Internet Exchange), a membership association for ISPs, said: "The position as to what the ISPs are to do is not clear."
He said that on paper the law applied to all companies, but that the Home Office has been saying informally that small ISPs would be exempt.
He said they were now left "in limbo", fearful of legal action if at some time in the future as the company became bigger, and they were then expected to collect the data.
Reports have suggested the government has even bigger plans for data retention.
They could involve one central database, gathering details on every text sent, e-mail sent, phone call made and website visited.
Consultation on the plans is due to open later this year.