Danish Police Admit That Data Retention Hasn't Helped At All

from the time-to-ditch-it dept

There’s been a big push around the globe to ramp up data retention rules, which require various online services to keep all sorts of data on their users for a long time, just in case it’s possible that law enforcement officials might need that data at some later date. That this only adds to the pile of data, and often makes it more difficult to find useful data, is never discussed. That this likely puts more people’s private data at risk of being hacked or accidentally revealed is never discussed. Also, almost never discussed: whether or not such data retention laws actually help solve crimes.

Over in Denmark, we have an answer, and that answer is an emphatic no. After half a decade of having strict data retention laws, the Danish police have announced that it has not helped them find criminals. And, as predicted, having all that data has made it unwieldy for law enforcement when they actually think they need some data.

“Session logging has caused serious practical problems,” the ministry’s staffers write in the report. “The implementation of session logging proved to be unusable to the police; this became clear the first time they tried to use [the data] as part of a criminal investigation.”

This seems like a pretty damning point concerning data retention. Hopefully, at the very least, this example is raised whenever any other country proposes data retention laws.

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Comments on “Danish Police Admit That Data Retention Hasn't Helped At All”

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Anonymous Coward says:

On behalf of thieves, pedophiles, and blackmailers everywhere

Please keep these laws exactly as they are. They’re the best thing that ever happened to us. Instead of needing to go through all of the work of breaking into individuals’ computers, now we have one-stop shopping, thanks to the data warehouses built and operated with public funds. Thank you citizens of Denmark for paying for your own targeting!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Oh it gets better...

Not only do such massive, centralized points of data provide a treasure trove of personal info for anyone willing and able to hack in, the sheer massive amount of data also helps criminals by burying any important data under an avalanche of useless and/or harmless data, requiring a drastic increase in the effort needed to find any useful data, and greatly decreasing police efficiency in catching criminals.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: On behalf of thieves, pedophiles, and blackmailers everywhere

The system is virtually of 0 value since it logs every 500. package traveling through. For small ISPs there can be some fringe use to clear people of wrongdoings (the only real proof that it has been used), but for larger ISPs it has never had any kind of use since every 500. package will give so many users that you cannot determine the lenght of the session anyway, which was the whole point of the system.

madasahatter (profile) says:

Re: On behalf of thieves, pedophiles, and blackmailers everywhere

The problem highlighted is collecting irrelevant data. Most of these data collection schemes are devised by people who do not understand that too much background “noise” makes it harder to locate the important information. One of the problems all intelligence agencies have faced is separating this noise from the important information and this has been true for a long time.

out_of_the_blue says:

OR, Danish police / software suppliers are incompetent.

Mike just goes with his bias and templates, never considers other possibilities. Not that I’m for “data retention”, fanboys, just showing how easily Mike’s “pretty damning” evidence can be set aside, and it’s certain that his “hopefully” won’t hold up against the motives that drive police states.

Take a loopy tour of Techdirt.com! You always end up same place!
Even if Mike is absolutely right about problems, he has no solutions to even suggest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: OR, Danish police / software suppliers are incompetent.

Cathy, go home.

The fact that “pretty damning” evidence can’t be set aside because he hasn’t spoonfed us a solution is irrelevant. In any case, the traditional “Probable cause -} Warrant -} surveillance -} gather evidence, then arrest suspect” methods are the best way of dealing with this.

What drives police states is the self-same authoritarian attitude as your own, okay?

And like it or not, the idea is to provide a treasure trove for fishing expeditions, mostly to catch easy targets, e.g. copyright infringers. And you wonder why the crime rate hasn’t plummeted?!

Anonymous Coward says:

You are not even scratching the surface here. This case is complete insanity.

The law came about in 2006 under a “liberal” government. The specific part of the law says (tranlated):
“The obligation to record information about an Internet session initial and final package …(red: removing some irrelevant exemptions) If such registration is not technically feasible, the in section 1 mentioned information should be collected instead, for every 500 package.”

Since logging first and last package is technically challeging given how nobody can define what either should be, all ISPs collect information for every 500 packages.
The cost is somewhere between 40 and 100 million dollars for the ISPs.

The law had to be reevaluated last year but has been pushed forth several times.

Now the news around the law are completely, well:

The new socialistic government defended the law in march this year by saying that it was used to convict murderers, child pornographers and weapon smugglers.
The police has been asked several times for proof of the use. Initially they could not give any, but came up with 2. 1 was a man being prooven innocence because of a celltower ping (which is completely irrelevant for these data and they later retracted it), the other was someone being prooven innocent because the data was showing that he could not have been the perp.

Hardly seems like proof of murderers, child pornographers and weapon smuggling to me…
The police couldn’t use the system untill 2010 because they lacked the programs to search through the data and even afterwards it has had major problems. So far, it is about 7 trillion data-points they can demand to look through…

The renegotiation has been pushed to late 2013, but I do not expect it to happen before 2015 at the earliest since the politicians are waiting for 1. some evaluation reprots, 2. new EU-legislation and 3. they hope for the police to get some experiences with the data before thrashing the system.

There is a popular movement against the session logging and even in the parliament there is a sceptical majority even though some of them are easy to talk into delaying the final decission.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Btw. the following is what is getting logged:

Senders IP
Recievers IP
Transport protocol
Senders Postal code
Receivers Postal code

Since spoofing IP is easy, it is pretty worthless since recievers IP is gonna be irrelevant. Postal code is hardly valuable today.

Furthermore the foloowing is collected by the police:
User ID (whatever)
Name and address of the registed owner of the IP at the time of communication.

The only valuable information is name and address of the registered user. The rest is bunkers for even the police.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Session logging will record where your computer went on the Internet. This does not show who was using the computer, or whether the data was seen by the user. Such a log does not show that the user of the computer, whoever that may have
been at the time, went to any particular site. Malicious sites, via scripts, and botnets could cause all sorts of site to be visited without the users knowledge.

Anonymous Coward says:

Data retention useless without identification

Data retention is useless without identification of all users down the chain.

For this reason, the Ministry of Justice has proposed a brand new Orwellian rule requiring personal identification of all users downstream to even private households.

What it means is that you must either implement personal authentification of all users using your connection and retain the information for one year, or limit the number of users to what is manageable for the police.

Donglebert the Needlessly Obtuse says:

Along with the obvious process flaws mentioned

Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see systems designed to randomly ping thousands of ip addresses purely to obfuscate real internet use, with the added (dis)benefit of increasing the log file sizes dramatically.

“Gee, this guy is seriously into 17th century Icelandic quilting patterns.”

Anonymous Coward says:

?The implementation of session logging proved to be unusable to the police; this became clear the first time they tried to use [the data] as part of a criminal investigation.?

(emphasis added)

Although the data retention legislation is fruitless and dangerous, I think it’s fair to point out that their problem in this case is that the implementation was lacking. That said, there is the far more troubling point that

in addition to being an invasion of citizens’ privacy, it is inconsistent: Libraries and schools, for example, are exempt from the law, so Internet use in those places is not logged and thus not traceable.

So, just like all things Internet, they’ve taken already-dangerous legislation and built in a back door with giant arrows pointing at it saying “BAD GUYS GO THIS WAY”. Good job, that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Libraries track usage very effectively by requiring documentation to use an internet-computer.
As for schools, well, that is your way in if you are a teacher, but not for long. Highschool and above are usually userID-controlled to some extend. There are several weaknesses to the systems, but it is hard to abuse these exemptions since you are identified as the person using the computer at a specific time…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Free wifi is a completely different story. The problem with using open wifi is that the police can find your position. On the other hand, it is seldom, the police can find the perpetrater just as the crime happens. So any wifi is possible to abuse. Even those found in public trains and busses.

jesperl (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Although the data retention legislation is fruitless and dangerous, I think it’s fair to point out that their problem in this case is that the implementation was lacking.

The evaluation report about session logging does make the claim that the problems are caused by the way that the ISPs have implemented it (session logging is data retention of IP/port/protocol/timestamp about all internet packets, or in practice every 500th packet).

However, that statement is even more ridiculous than anything else in the report. First of all, the Danish ISPs have implemented session logging in exactly the way that the Ministry of Justice has required, so there is absolutely nothing to be surprised about. The arguments about “implementation problems” are completely incoherent, and the person who wrote that section really doesn’t seem to know what he/she is talking about.

For example, at one point they complain that only information about every 500th packet is retained, so it will not be possible to check “whether people are active on the internet”. Makes no sense at all. Visiting a single website with dynamic content from many sources, like cnn.com, tends to generate more that 500 packets, and statistically speaking one will be recorded to “show activity”.

But with a little knowledge of how the internet works (a skill that is totally lacking with the Danish Ministry of Justice, where people seem to think that the internet works just like the telephone system) and how data retention is done in practice (say, by talking to people at ISPs), it’s pretty clear that the main “implementation” problem (according to the report) is really about the natural limitations for data retention caused by CG-NAT (carrier grade NAT).

From a law enforcement perspective, CG-NAT is a bad thing since CG-NAT means that several customers share the same public IP address (but what can you do when there is an IPv4 shortage?). The data retention directive in the EU requires that ISPs keep track of which customers have been allocated a given public IP address, and that information must be retained for 6-24 months (in most EU countries for 12 months). This has nothing to do with session logging, by the way. The basic idea is that if some IP address shows up in an external server log in connection with criminal activity, the police can identify the customer behind the IP address (basically the same way that RIAA/MPAA try to hunt down file sharers).

Needless to say, this doesn’t work very well if, say, 100+ customers share the same public IP because of CG-NAT. This is also a problem that has surfaced in the discussions about the Snoopers’ charter in the UK recently, but at least the UK government has understood the nature of the problem.

To make matters worse, a Danish ISP with CG-NAT for mobile subscribers has done some extra data retention (source port logging in the NAT gateway) to address the NAT limitations. So, if the police can obtain an IP address as well as source port from the external server log, then this particular ISP can pick out the customer.

So far so good… except that it doesn’t work in most cases because the server logs only contain IP addresses and not source ports (or the Danish police have only ontained the IP address, not the source port).

Put all of this together without understanding CG-NAT or the internet, but with a strong desire to give a “positive” evaluation of sessions logging (despite its total failure), which the Danish Ministry of Justice forced upon the ISPs in 2007 as the only EU country. The only thing to do in a situation like this: blame the ISPs for the failure!

Full disclosure: I am board member of a Danish NGO (IT-Political Association of Denmark) that has opposed data retention since the very beginning. We have tried to communicate the above points to the Ministry of Justice (in more diplomatic ways, of course), but without any noticable success.

jesperl (profile) says:

Re: Re:

‘This seems like a pretty damning point concerning data retention’
and is the exact reason why the idiots in governments will continue to want to do it!!

Don’t worry (unless you are a Dane and have to live with this stupidity and violation of your right to privacy).

The Danish government has just secured a majority to continue with the internet data retention (session logging) that they have admitted is completely useless.

Their supporting party in this matter is arguing that session logging might be useful sometime in the future.

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