Thursday 11 August 2016

How secondary data got its name

We are transported back in time to early 2016. The draft Investigatory Powers Bill has been through its pre-legislative Parliamentary scrutiny. Somewhere in Whitehall a committee is discussing drafting changes.

- “Next item please.

- ‘Related communications data’. A bit ticklish, this one.

- What seems to be the problem?

- We carried over ‘Related communications data’ from RIPA, but built on it.

- By built on, you mean expanded?

- Yes.

- How much did you build on it?

- Quite a lot. In RIPA related communications data was a subset of communications data.

- So we would expect. A qualifier such as ‘related’ should limit the scope of the main defined term.

- Yes. But in the draft Bill we ended up with a superset, not a subset.

- You mean broader than communications data?

- Yes.

- So related communications data now includes data that is not communications data?

- Yes.

- This could be serious. We had enough trouble with ‘Data includes any information that is not data’.

- Sorry about that.

- We had better find a new name.

- We’ve had an idea. We have focused on promoting the new culture of clarity, openness and transparency.

- I see. What have you come up with?

- Well, this data is revealing about people’s daily lives. ‘Lifestyle information’ would sum it up nicely.

- This data is collected by GCHQ isn’t it?

- Yes indeed. It can be more useful than content. And the Bill imposes fewer controls than for content on how they use it.

- I see. I wonder if ‘Lifestyle information’ is quite what we are looking for.

- But clarity, openness, transparency….

- Of course. But this is legislation, not a press release. Doesn’t this data include machine communications? Not much life there.

- Something a bit more neutral, then?

- Perhaps. Suggestions anyone?

- The Intelligence and Security Committee said that information associated with communications was the primary value of bulk interception. How about ‘primary data’?

- Pleasingly abstract, has a certain logic. But not quite there, I fear.

- Well, if not primary it must be secondary. Ha! Ha!

- ‘Secondary data’. Perfect. Next item please.”


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