Last week the EU updated its data retention laws to include the internet, and it's opened up considerable issues about the role of the internet in law enforcement and how far governments should be able to delve into the lives of private citizens to protect the mass population. Telephone systems both fixed and cellular have been monitored for years in many countries around the world, but governments are only really catching on to applying similar laws to the net.
Under new laws, data will be kept by ISPs for an entire year. They'll collect information such as IP addresses, email information and web browsing history. What won't be collected is the actual content. For example, the government will be able to find out what IP sent an email, who it was sent to and when it was sent, but it won't be able to actually say what the email contained.
Although the law itself was passed with little opposition, privacy groups have criticised the new law as being costly and impractical. They're not alone either. Even the president of the European Confederation of Police confirmed, reaffirmed, these doubts: "it remains easy for criminals to avoid detection through fairly simple means."- The result would be that a vast effort is made with little more effect on criminals and terrorists than to slightly irritate them."-
It's doubtful that many terrorism networks--well known for being highly organised and technologically advanced--are likely to be using traceable ISPs or even sending their data through normal email protocol at all. Most cyber crime usually originates in countries where enforcing any such law is difficult, if not impossible. Just as anyone, wishing to commit a crime but still communicate, can purchase a pay as you go phone completely without trace, terrorists can easily use internet cafés, provide false details, use virtual private networks and employ any number of other tricks to avoid detection.
Even ignoring human rights and the efficiency of the program, the cost for some countries reaches into hundreds of millions of pounds. In countries like the UK where ISPs simply don't have the hardware to log the net history of thousands of customers, the taxpayer is paying the final bill. To some, it feels like paying money to be spied on by their government, but others in Europe see the bill as a necessary step to fight crime.
The "-European Working Party on Information Technology Crime" (EWPITC) has stated that: "It is absolutely imperative that the retention period of vital 'traffic data"' is set to a minimum of 12 months." Claiming large potential advances in crime enforcement for offences such as drug and human trafficking. The EWPITC has dismissed suggestions from privacy groups that retention of less than a week would be sufficient for evidence gathering. The party claims that ICT crimes can go undetected for weeks or even months and that anything less than a year makes tracing such crimes a near impossibility.
In terms of public interest the laws have gained relatively little attention for quite a major change in how Europe is monitored online. Google's Streetmaps relatively benign attempt to capture photographs of major European cities has actually had far more press coverage. However, with new laws now aimed at logging facebook activity to catch--you guessed it--potential terrorists and drug criminals, citizens need to keep a closer eye on what laws get passed in the name of law enforcement.