3 Is there a need to access more communications
The 25% missing data figure
34. The Government assert that the powers contained
in the draft Bill are necessary to ensure that the powers of law
enforcement, national security agencies and other public authorities
keep pace with technological change. Communications technologies
and services are constantly evolving and the Government are concerned
that "the ability of the police and others to use this vital
tool is disappearing because communications data from new technologies
is less available and often harder to access".
The Government state that at present approximately 25% of communications
data required by investigators is unavailable and that without
intervention this will increase to 35% within two years.
The aim of the Bill is to bring availability back to around 85%
35. The 25% figure has been much quoted in aid
of the draft Bill but has also attracted considerable criticism.
It is not clear what methodology was used to arrive at the 25%
figure. The Internet Service Providers' Association (ISPA) questioned
how the baseline of 100% of data had been derived,
and we agree that this is not clear. We understand that the figure
is based on research commissioned by the Home Office in 2011 on
changing public use of communications combined with an appraisal
of the technical feasibility of various methods to obtain communications
data from CSPs but the Government did not share the details of
either of these projects with us. It is not a simple case of being
able to measure the percentage of requests for communications
data which are turned down by CSPs because the figure includes
requests that would have been made but were not made because the
SPoCs knew the data would not be available so did not take the
36. We are of the strong view that the 25% data
gap is an unhelpful and potentially misleading figure. There has
not been a 25% degradation in the overall quantity of communications
data available; in fact quite the opposite. Technological advances
and mass uptake of internet services since RIPA was passed in
2000, including social networking sites, means that there has
been, and will continue to be, a huge increase in the overall
amount of communications data which is generated and is potentially
available to public authorities. This is illustrated in Box 5.
BOX 5: Increase in the volume of communications
data since 2000
In 2000, just half of UK adults said that they had
a mobile phonethat figure now stands at 92%. There are
now 81.6 million mobile subscriptions in the United Kingdom.
August 2001 was the first month in which over one
billion text messages were sent in the United Kingdom.
Over 150 billion text messages were sent in 2011.
Mobile subscribers only began to access the internet
when GPRS technologies were introduced in 2002. Take up was slow,
as it took time for providers to develop services (such as picture
messaging and web browsing) that could easily be used, and for
customers to be encouraged to buy internet-enabled devices.
The maximum speed of a mobile data connection offered
in 2003 was about 32-40 kbit/s.
By December 2010, in good 3G coverage
areas, average mobile speeds were 2.1Mbit/s.
With the advent of 4G, these mobile broadband speeds will increase
This compares with the average fixed broadband speed of 6.2Mbit/s
Social networking sites were in their infancy in
2000. MySpace was launched in 2003. Facebook was not launched
It had a million users by the end of 2004, 100 million users by
August 2008 and 1.01 billion globally by September 2012.
There are 30 million active Facebook
users in the United Kingdom, around half of whom log on every
day. Twitter was launched in July 2006.
It took 3 years 2 months for the billionth tweet to be sent. Now
a billion tweets are sent every 2.5 days.
In 2012, over 5.1 million customers access mobile
broadband services via a laptop and dongle, and 39% of UK adults
use their mobile phones to access the internet. The average UK
consumer spends 90 minutes per week accessing social networking
sites and e-mail, or using a mobile to access the internet, while
for the first time ever time spent on calls on both fixed and
mobile phones has declined.
The total number of United Kingdom fixed broadband
connections passed 20 million for the first time in 2011. In addition,
the number of mobile broadband connections passed 5 million during
the year, and by the first quarter of 2012 76% of United Kingdom
homes had a broadband connection.
37. As the London Internet Exchange (LINX) put
"Certainly, as people make ever greater use
services, there is an ever greater quantity of data that either
exists, or could be brought into existence by statutory requirement.
However to say that this "is no longer always retained by
communications providers" is highly misleading: communications
providers are retaining more communications data than ever before
and making it available to public authorities under existing law.
The mere fact that even more data could be created, collected
and made available hardly constitutes a loss."
38. It is true that that even if there is more
communications data available than ever before there may still
be an operationally significant gap. Bob Hughes, Government Programme
Manager, Telefónica UK-02, made the point that technology
is constantly moving on and changing what is available and what
is not. Charles Farr
confirmed that this was the problem the legislation seeks to address:
"...there are far more communications and data attached to
them, and there is far more data generally crossing the internet,
not all of which is about communications. Those three things are
definitely true. The key point is that the data there does not
enable us to address the questions that law enforcement and the
agencies have to address; in other words, there is more data but
it is not always relevant or useful to us".
39. It is acknowledged on
all sides that the volume of communications data now available
is vastly greater than what was available when RIPA was passed.
The much quoted figure of a 25% communications data gap purports
to relate to data which might in theory be available, but currently
is not. The 25% figure is, no doubt unintentionally, both misleading
The missing data elements
40. It was not long into our inquiry that we
began to question the utility of the 25% figure and we asked the
Home Office to identify what specific data types are currently
missing. After some months the Government agreed to tell us on
a confidential basis that there were three main data types that
they hoped the legislation would be used to make available. At
that point they argued that these data types could not be publicly
identified without risking exposing loop holes to criminals. This
need for secrecy was one of the drivers for the very broad drafting
of clause 1.
41. Finally, on 24 October Home Office officials
publicly identified the data types that are frequently not available
and that the Government intend to secure through the legislation.
These are: (i) subscriber data relating to IP addresses (i.e.
who is using an IP address at any given point); (ii) data identifying
which services or websites are used on the internet (i.e. the
web address up to the first /); (iii) data from CSPs based overseas
who provide webmail and social networks to users in the United
42. We accept that IP addresses
and web logs and data generated for business purposes but not
retained by overseas CSPs are three data types which the law enforcement
and other agencies cannot always access.
We discuss in this report
whether access to these data categories is necessary and, if it
is to be enabled, the additional safeguards which will need to
The capability gap
43. It is not the case that these three data
types account for the entire gap. Part of the gap is down to a
lack of ability on behalf of law enforcement agencies to make
effective use of the data that is available. This was confirmed
in evidence from senior police officers including Sir Peter Fahy,
the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police.
Detective Superintendent Steve Higgins from the National
Police Improvement Agency explained:
"Are the police equipped and do they have sufficient
knowledge? In April 2010, we conducted a national training needs
analysis to look at just this very issue; we identified a number
of skills gaps, not just in relation to accredited SPoCS but also
in relation to investigators and analysts, in particular".
44. He then went on to explain that the National
Police Improvement Agency has tried to address this through new
courses for SPoCs, investigators and analysts. The accreditation
of SPoCs is currently being reviewed and a programme of continuing
professional development is being implemented. The National Police
Improvement Agency is also looking to embed training on communications
data within existing programmes of training for detectives.
45. Part of the gap is down
to a lack of ability on behalf of law enforcement agencies to
make effective use of the data that is available. Addressing this
should be a priority. It does not require fresh legislation but
will involve additional expenditure.
25 Home Office Q&A brief, page 10 Back
Home Office written evidence, paragraphss 13 and 15 Back
Home Office written evidence, paragraph 16 Back
ISPA written evidence, paragraph 23 Back
Evidence of Colin Crowell, Head of Global Public Policy, Twitter,
Q 654. Back
LINX written evidence, paragraph 36. Back
Q 443 & 445 Back
Q 874 Back
Q 865 Back
Q 1095 Back
Q 1108 Back