Twitter, Virgin Media, O2 and ISPA slam data-snooping bill

The Joint Committee on the government’s Draft Communications Data Bill has published responses received by key industry players

A number of companies, including Twitter and Virgin Media, have raised some serious concerns regarding the government's Draft Communications Data Bill, which would give police access to communications data for the purposes of tackling serious crime.

Communications data includes information such as which websites individuals have visited, and who they have emailed, but not the actual content of exchanges. The government wants to update existing data laws to enable police to access communications data generated by new technologies such as VoIP (voice over IP) service Skype.

The Draft Bill also plans to require communication service providers, when requested to do so, to retain and store communications records that they might not already keep.

Twitter has objected strongly to this requirement in particular, as it outlines that most government entities around the world have exerted great pressure on companies to minimise the collection of user data, rather than increase it.

The social media giant also claims that these requirements are likely to lead to it holding data on users outside the UK, which could create legal problems for the company.

Twitter said in a written statement to the Joint Committee on the government's Draft Communication Bill: "We would be interested to understand what consideration was given to issues of proportionality in the drafting of this provision as well as some cross jurisdictional challenges which may arise."

"For example, it is possible and indeed highly likely that this type of monitoring would result in the collection and retention of data on users who are outside the UK. This has the potential to place us in legally untenable position with respect to privacy."

O2 also criticised the Bill by saying that if it were required to collect any data that 'happens to traverse' over its network this will introduce "expensive duplication, drastically reduce the usefulness of data collected and create a harsh commercial imbalance in the communications industry."

Virgin Media also focused on data retention as its primary concern and claimed that widening the scope could impact its commercial relationships.

It said: "Virgin Media currently enjoys good working relationships with a range of third parties, both domestically and internationally. In many cases, Virgin Media makes their applications and services available to its customers through, for example, its TiVo service."

"If Virgin Media is legally obliged to provide data from such third parties, this may well damage its commercial relationship with those parties and other third parties, particularly those based overseas."

Finally, the UK's trade association for providers of internet services, ISPA, issued one of the most damning statements, in which it said that the Bill has the potential to put the UK at a competitive disadvantage and destabilise the market. It said that it could make the UK a less attractive and more onerous place to do business digitally.

ISPA commented: "Far too much discretion is given to the Home Secretary without the necessary Parliamentary oversight to ensure that significant changes proposed are proportionate and necessary."

"Parliament should be told what data will be retained, for what purposes and make sure that the necessary safeguards are in place to balance the differing interests of law enforcement, users and businesses."

All responses will now be examined by the parliamentary joint committee.