In a way, we live in a world where every action we take, every comment we make, every message we send is recorded and recorded forever.
But what if that data were being used for profit?
And what if it were being stored in an anonymous cloud, without us even knowing it?
This is the topic at the heart of the recent debate over the government’s new Data Retention Bill.
The bill would require that organisations and individuals that collect, store or share data in a way that has a “material adverse effect” to privacy and data security must seek to “compensate” those impacted, under a framework set out in the government consultation.
The aim is to “reduce the risks to individuals and organisations that are not being properly compensated for the loss of data”, the government says.
In the process, the Bill is likely to create a number of new privacy concerns, including the need for organisations to “establish clear and consistent procedures for the collection, retention and use of personal data”, and to “ensure the data collected and retained is appropriately protected”.
But is it really necessary to store personal data?
According to research from privacy organisation Liberty, most people believe that storing data on the internet is inherently insecure.
“For most of us, our internet activity is private and we have very little choice but to agree to share our private information with companies we don’t trust,” says Laura Blyth, the organisation’s data privacy specialist.
“If the government was serious about protecting privacy, it would be making it easier for people to understand what’s happening online and make sure that their personal data is kept safe.”
The bill’s impactOn Monday, the government announced it had received a response from the US Federal Trade Commission to the government and would publish its findings in the coming days.
“In the interim, we have taken steps to address concerns about privacy and security,” the statement said.
“We are working with the FTC to provide further information on the new data retention legislation.
We remain committed to making the internet more secure for all.”
In its response, the FTC says it will make the public aware of the changes and will provide information on “the law and regulations governing the retention of personal information, the privacy of individuals’ data, and other consumer protections” once they have been “published”.
But privacy advocates have expressed concerns about the bill’s approach to data privacy.
“The FTC is proposing to make the government collect your internet data without your consent,” says Robyn Dickson, the director of digital privacy at Open Rights Group, which campaigns for greater consumer rights.
“That’s not really what privacy is about, it’s about giving the government control over how we communicate, share, use and access our data.”
“If you’re worried about the amount of data that’s being collected, it seems to me it’s the government that’s really being negligent.
It should be giving you more information about the data collection, it should be asking you questions about the reasons why they’ve collected that data.”
A number of organisations have voiced concerns about how the legislation will affect their customers.
For example, the UK’s largest ISP, BT, said the Bill will force it to collect data from consumers without their consent.”BT is committed to providing customers with a secure and personal experience online, including our network,” a spokesperson said.
“Our customers’ privacy and safety is our highest priority, and we take all possible steps to protect them from data misuse.
As we’ve always done, we’ll be providing details of the data we collect from BT customers when we publish the final version of the bill.”
In the US, a number have argued that the bill could have a negative impact on online freedom.
“The bill would create an industry-wide database of internet users, and potentially all online businesses, which could provide a platform for the surveillance of customers and businesses alike,” said John Lacey, the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a statement.
“This would be a disaster for online privacy, and a direct threat to free speech.”
In other words, privacy advocates believe that the Bill would have a chilling effect on free speech.
“I think it’s going to make a lot of people very nervous,” says Liberty’s Blyst.
“I think there are a lot people that are really worried about it, and I think it could be a huge step backwards for people in terms of online freedom and free speech,” she adds.
In a recent interview, Privacy International chief executive Kate Hudson said the government needs to be more upfront about the impact of the Bill.
“We believe that privacy is important, and the law needs to make it more clear what it is you’re asking for, how you’re using it, how the data is going to be used,” she said.
But while the bill has been labelled a “data retention bill” by some, the bill itself is not about data retention.
Instead, it is about giving people the tools to decide how and when they want