Privacy Basics: Passwords, Tracking, and Data Retention | Data Retention

Pros and Cons of Data Retention

Made by Stacy Martin, Senior Data Privacy Manager at Mozilla.

Evaluate your individual needs for privacy against the pros and cons of data retention, learning about Web mechanics and privacy.

30 minutes

  • Introduction

    Mandatory data retention typically involves laws that force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecom providers to continuously collect and store records documenting the online activities of millions of ordinary users. In cases like this, the government demands access to the records your phone and Internet providers keep about your calls and online habits.

    This kind of data is called "metadata." "Metadata" is information about your calls and online activities, like which sites you visit, whom you talk to, and when you make particular calls or send particular messages.

    Mass collection and retention of data like this applies to our cellular and wi-fi networks, as well as to our cable and land-line telecommunications.

  • 5

    Consider the Pros

    Consider these arguments for government mass data collection and retention.

    Government mass data collection and retention...

    • Fights crime and terrorism through computer analysis of patterns of phone use, such as automatically figuring out whether people know each other.
    • Detects when one person uses multiple phones, or switches phones
    • Detects when groups of people are traveling together or regularly meeting one another
    • Detects when groups of people use their phones in unusual or suspicious ways.
  • 5

    Consider the Cons

    Consider these arguments against government mass data collection and retention.

    Government mass data collection and retention...

    • Compromises online anonymity which is crucial for whistle-blowers, investigators, journalists, and those engaging in political speech.
    • Is invasive, costly, and damages the right to privacy and free expression.
    • Involves privacy risks that increase as the databases become vulnerable to theft and accidental disclosure.
    • Makes service providers absorb the costs of storing and maintaining data - costs they often pass on to consumers.
    • Has a huge potential for abuse.
  • 20

    Form an opinion

    Which of these arguments seem convincing to you? Which do you question? Why? When do the benefits of mass data collection and retention outwiegh the risks? When do they not?

    Research the data collection and retention laws in your country. Try to answer questions like these:

    • What type of access does law enforcement have to your communications?
    • Does your government need a warrant to collect your data?
    • How long does the law say that your data may be retained?
    • How does your country compare to others?

    After you've learned about the data collection and retention laws in your own country, draft - and look for opportunities to share - your own opinion on data retention.