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Mozilla Joins Debate on Data Retention

Ever since the whistleblowing from Edward Snowden, security has been a top issue across the globe. Although many suspected that government surveillance was being carried out in some shape or form, Snowden’s evidence was damning and highlighted the scale and the scope of international government’s surveillance practices.

Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act was used to authorise the NSA’s mass surveillance, which is currently under discussion as the law expires on the 1st of June. This act has allowed the government to, amongst other things, collect all phone metadata.

Mozilla, the company behind Firefox, are taking a stand and want the U.S. Congress to pass reforms to stop this type of data retention from being legal and from happening.

For this round of surveillance reform in the United States, Mozilla have outlined four elements that they claim without which user trust will fail:

1. A strict ban on bulk collection;
2. Sufficient transparency to be able to tell if bulk collection or mass surveillance is occurring, including declassification of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions;
3. No new data retention mandates; and
4. No new surveillance authorities, powers, or programs.

One topic in the current legislative debate is whether mandatory data retention should be included as part of the Section 215 reauthorisation and reform. The government’s claim is that although they may drop their data collection, telecommunications companies should be required by law to gather metadata so that it can be used for law enforcement or intelligence access.

Mozilla calls this thinking an “exercise in misguided pragmatism.” They think that to collect such data is unnecessary and ultimately harmful – to make it mandatory to retain data is, in their eyes, a step too far.

Once we allow the government to force businesses to hold onto such data, it’s then harder to take a step back. It’ll then allow easier steps forward into deeper and greater surveillance. It isn’t unthinkable to see such a law extended into other industries, like internet companies.

Not only does collecting user metadata violate privacy, but it also exposes the companies to greater risk of attack. These firms will now hold even more data, valuable and personal data, which will make it lucrative for unscrupulous groups to gain access to. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Judge Reggie Walton said in a recent ruling that data retention by government “increases the risk that information about United States persons may be improperly used or disseminated [because] the great majority of these individuals have never been the subject of investigation.”

Storing data longer than is necessary should be avoided. It’s a practice that supports privacy invasion. If there’s no need for the data to be stored then it should be disposed of securely, especially if that data is personal. When 91% of Americans feel they have lost control over their own data, it’s vital that such metadata laws aren’t passed because it’s only going to increase that figure and damage citizen trust.

For more information on Mozilla’s policy stance, be sure to read their {{|official blog post}} on the matter.


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