UK plans to track all internet connections could cost £1bn, campaigners warn

Government plans to track every website visited by every British citizen could cost more than £1bn, privacy campaigners have estimated.

The £1bn estimate for the cost of requiring phone and internet companies to retain everyone’s internet connection records and store them for 12 months is based on a similar scheme in Denmark, which was recently dropped on grounds of cost.

The Don’t Spy on Us coalition, which includes the Open Rights Group and Privacy International, says that the £1bn price tag for the new powers for the police and security services to access everyone’s web browsing history compares with the initial official Home Office estimate of only £174m over 10 years.

The British internet industry has already made clear that it regards the £174m figure as an underestimate. The president of BT Security has told MPs that the allocated amount would only cover BT’s costs, and Virgin Media has said its costs will be “in the tens of millions”. The Home Office is reconsidering its initial cost estimate.

The Danish government recently shelved similar proposals to monitor the web browsing habits of Danish citizens after accountancy giant Ernst Young, confirmed it would cost 1bn Danish kroner (£105m) to implement. This estimate only covered the equipment investment and did not include annual operating costs.

Don’t Spy on Us says that as Britain’s population, at 64 million, is more than 11 times that of Denmark’s 5.6 million, the cost of a similar internet record system in Britain would be more than £1bn. It estimates that this bill, which is to be paid in full by the Home Office, is equivalent to the cost of employing 3,000 more full-time police officers.

Alistair Carmichael, Lib Dems’ home affairs spokesman, called the bill a ‘huge waste of money’. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

Eric King, director of Don’t Spy on Us, said: “The government is trying to force internet service providers to collect all of our internet connection records, but refuses to listen when they express concerns about the cost and feasibility of their proposals. As in Denmark, the government should commission an independent cost analysis to clarify the true cost of collecting internet connection records.”

The demand for an independent cost assessment has also been backed by the Liberal Democrats. The party’s home affairs spokesman, Alistair Carmichael, said: “Splurging £1.2bn on hoovering up everyone’s data all of the time sounds like a huge waste of money – and might not even work. It would be far better to divert these resources to following up on leads and ensuring there are enough police on our streets.”

The Home Office has indicated it is re-assessing the cost implications of retaining internet connection records, which is an important proposal in its investigatory powers bill, known as the snooper’s charter.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “There are a number of fundamental differences between our bill and the Danish model, and the independent joint committee of parliament acknowledged this. It is absolutely incorrect to suggest we are implementing the Danish model.

“We have worked closely with communications service providers (CSPs) to carefully estimate the cost of implementing a system to retain internet connection records. And we will continue to work with CSPs to refine that cost as the bill progresses,” they said.

“We are determined to implement the legislation in a way that will deliver the maximum operational benefit for the police and law enforcement agencies. Our proposals provide a comprehensive and comprehensible framework for investigatory powers, with robust safeguards and world-leading oversight.”

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