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The cost of the government snoopers’ bill

costDespite all the current controversy, even it is ends up a little watered down, one version or another of the so-called government snoopers’ bill will eventually end up as law, and it is you who will have to fork out for the costs.

Whether you embrace greater government powers to spy on your telephone and internet communications on the grounds that they will help to catch terrorists, paedophiles and other lowly life forms, or whether you frown on them on the grounds that they etch away at your personal freedoms, have no doubt that they will be very expensive; and guess who will have to pay for them.

The bill is officially called the draft Communications Bill and the force behind it is the Home secretary Teresa May. Under it, telecoms companies and ISPs will be required to collect information on all telephone communications, emails, messages and web site visits, logging the what, where and when of everything you do. This kind of information is known as metadata, and it doesn’t include the actual content of your communications. For instance when you make a phone call, the number that you phone, the amount of time that you spend on the call, and you location from which you make it will be logged and the data will be made available to the police and other services, but what you actually say will not.

When you consider the number of calls, messages, emails and website visits made every day in the UK, you can appreciate the vast amount of data that must be collected and logged. The data must also be discoverable, which means that it must be maintained on databases that can be searched readily. Such an undertaking will be extremely costly.

The government has suggested that the exercise will cost £1.8 billion, but according to industrial analysts the cast are more likely to be around £9.3, and that is just for its implementation; experience teaches us that in reality costs are invariably several times higher than initial estimates.

So what does it mean to you the consumer? Even taking the lower of these estimates of the costs involved will mean that you have to pay on average between an extra £50 and £100 a year on your broadband deals.  Heavy users of broadband will have to pay considerably more, particularly if users are charged for the amount of data that is held on them.