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UK government won't be keeping mobile database

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The Home Office has responded to a petition against plans for state registration of mobile phones, by pointing out that the state has no such plans.

The petition, on the Number 10 website, was set up by a chap from Privacy International and closed in October last year with 266 signatures. In November the Home Office published a consultation about how far a government should go in monitoring communications, and has now closed the petition by pointing out that mandatory registration of mobile phones was not part of that consultation.

But the response is a little too explicit for our liking - "The Government has no plans to require owners of mobile phones to be registered with statutory authorities", says the Home Office statement closing the petition, pointing out that the consultation "rejected an option for a single database holding all communications data".

So no "single database", or requirement to register with "statutory authorities", but that doesn't mean that those using pre-paid mobile phones will continue to be anonymous forever.

Most countries require anyone buying a pre-paid phone to present identification, but that information is held by the network operators (and made available to the police on request). In the UK one can still buy a SIM anonymously, but the network operators don't like it for purely commercial reasons: it's hard to up sell to someone you don't know, not to mention the issues around child protection (it's hard for an anonymous customer to prove their age, and thus network operators block anything remotely dodgy, such as Flickr, by default).

So operators would be unlikely to object to mandatory registration of pre-paid mobile accounts. In response to the petition the Home Office states it won't be running a database of mobile phone numbers, but why would it when the government can just ask the network operators to take on the role should it feel so inclined? ®

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