Providers have told MPs that should to the government’s Investigatory Powers Bill - dubbed the “snooper’s charter” in the media - be passed, customers may have to pay more for broadband to cover the cost of collecting loads of extra data.
The proposed bill would force broadband providers like BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media to keep a record of every website that users visit, and hold it for 12 months. If law enforcement authorities make a request to look at a user's activities, the companies are expected to comply.
According to providers, the cost of implementing these plans are likely to be far beyond the £175 million that the government's earmarked for the project. Speaking to a Commons select committee, they warned that the planned legislation doesn't account for the vast amount of data created by a normal user.
Matthew Hare, the chief executive of ultrafast provider Gigaclear, said: "On a typical 1Gb connection we see over 15TB of data per year passing over that connection… If you say that a proportion of that is going to be the communications data, it's going to be the most massive amount of data that you'd be expected to keep in the future. The indiscriminate collection of mass data is going to have a massive cost."
James Blessing, the chair of the Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) warned the committee that even if the government paid for the equipment, they'd still be major ongoing costs like power and cooling. He warned that: "the ongoing costs of looking after the data … will have to come out of price-rises".
The other big problem, according to the providers, is that the law lets the authorities look at metadata, rather than content. For example, on a phone call, the number dialled and length of call is metadata, while the conversation itself is content. A lot of the time, however, it's not that easy.
Hare explained an example: "A teenager is currently playing a game using Steam, that's not a web application … and then they're broadcasting the game they're playing using something called Twitch. They may well also be doing a voice call where they're shouting at their friends, and those are all running simultaneously. At any one time any of those services could drop in, drop out, be replaced."
Cases like that make it very hard to separate content and metadata, resulting in a major technical headache for the companies that have to comply with the new legislation.
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