The Internet Services Provider's Association, (a body of UK ISPs) wants the UK government to clarify legislation requiring that ISPs retain customer data for law enforcement agencies.

The Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security (ATCS) Act became law last December. It asks ISPs to voluntarily retain details of customers' communications for long periods to help law-enforcement agencies with investigation.

The secretary general of the ISPA Nicholas Lansman, wrote to Home Office officials last month telling them that ISPA members are unconvinced that retaining data is necessary to fight terrorism and serious crime. ISPA communications officer Brian Ahearne said yesterday.

"We are waiting for clarification of seven points," Ahearne said, "We cannot recommend a voluntary code of practice the terms of which have not been codified." There is no sign from the government as to whether these answers will be forthcoming.

"There is no specific time scale" for the negotiations, a Home Office spokesman said.

Collapse Both parties denied a report in the online edition of The Guardian newspaper yesterday that suggested negotiations had collapsed.

"I wouldn't say that was the case," the Home Office spokesman said. "We want to make sure we can get agreement to this."

The ISPA is happy to work with law enforcement on any request that is reasonable, proportional and enforceable under UK law, Ahearne said, adding: "We need decisions from the government because they haven't given us the information that's needed."

One issue concerns the 1998 Data Protection Act. This requires that ISPs retain customer data no longer than is necessary for billing. It limits their powers to disclose the data.

However, the 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act, gives certain agencies access to data such as billing information retained by the ISP.

The contentious ATCS Act seeks to extend the period ISPs keep such information, obliging them to store data they do not otherwise need to run their business.

Retaining such quantities of data is expensive. Ahearne warned: "It could have an unfair effect on the UK. industry. What about companies whose servers are based abroad?"