The Data Retention (EC) Regulations were approved by the House of Lords on Tuesday and signed into law by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith on Wednesday. The Regulations transpose into UK law most of the European Union's Data Retention Directive.
The new law is intended to ensure that security services have a reliable log of mobile and fixed-line phone calls to be used in investigations, and relates not to the content of calls but only to records of their occurrence.
Though all telecoms firms keep data for a period, the Regulations are designed to ensure a uniform approach across the industry.
"Communications data, such as mobile phone billing data, have a proven track record in supporting law enforcement and intelligence agency investigations and are a vital investigative tool," said Lord Bassam of Brighton, who proposed the adoption of the Regulations this week in the House of Lords. "They provide evidence of associations between individuals and can place them in a particular location. They also provide evidence of innocence."
"Without this data, the ability of the police and the Security Service painstakingly to investigate the associations between those involved in terrorist attacks and those who may have directed or financed their activity would be limited," said Bassam. "The police and the Security Service’s ability to investigate terrorist plots and serious crime must not be allowed to depend on the business practice that happens to be employed by the public communications provider that a particular suspect, victim or witness used. These draft regulations will ensure that, regardless of which public communication provider supplies the service, the communications data will be available."
The Regulations will come into force on 1st October, two weeks after the deadline set by the EU, but they will not apply to internet traffic data.
The Home Office conducted a consultation on the Regulations with the public and industry and said that the telecoms industry told it that the collection of internet data was too complicated to be include in the current rules.
In fact the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) told the Home Office that it believed the current Regulations could never be used for ordering the retention of internet data.
"Many respondents felt that the complexity surrounding the internet make the draft Regulations an inappropriate framework for implementation of the internet aspects as this would present particular technical and resourcing issues," said a Government response to the public consultation. "The Internet Service Provider Association (ISPA) commented that 'the draft regulations as they stand would not enable implementation of the internet aspects of the Directive'."
"The respondents cited specific examples such as the increased difficulties in replicating the 'end to end' picture of communications data, the difference in the cost profile for storage and retrieval of Internet communications and the need for a strong business case, if the retention period for IP data is set at 12 months."
The Directive allows member states to extend the rules to internet data at a later date, provided these rules are in force by 15th March 2009.