Big Brother-style Telecoms Database Considered

By: Maria Literral

Reporters from the Times have exposed controversial Home Office plans to create a huge government database that will contain confidential details of every phone call and email in the UK. The database will be populated with confidential data that is collated from telecoms companies and Internet service providers (ISPs).

Under government orders, Telecoms companies have been holding information about phone calls and text messages since last year. However, under these new plans, the Home Office will extend this to include e-mails, too. These records can be easily accessed by police officers and the security services by simply applying to the courts for a warrant.

Although the plans for this Orwellian database are at an early stage, insiders believe that they might be included in the draft Communications Data Bill, which is due at the end of the year. The Communications Data Bill is being created in the interest of national security and crime prevention following the 7/7 bombings. A Home Office spokesperson said of the Bill: "The Communications Data Bill will help ensure that crucial capabilities in the use of communications data for counter-terrorism and investigation of crime continue to be available."

News of the database has been met with criticism. Shadow Home Secretary David Davis believes that storing such confidential information in one central place could be risky, he said: "This could well be more of a threat to our security than a support." Jonathan Bamford of the Information Commission, an independent authority that protects personal information, also believes that this database might be a security risk. He said: "This would give us serious concerns and may well be a step too far. We are not aware of any justification for the State to hold every UK citizen's phone and internet records. We have real doubts that such a measure can be justified, or is proportionate or desirable. We have warned before that we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Holding large collections of data is always risky - the more data that is collected and stored, the bigger the problem when the data is lost, traded or stolen."

Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said that the government's recent data protection scandals indicated that they "were not to be trusted" with such confidential data. Indeed, these scandals include the recent loss of a CD containing the details of every child benefit claimant in the UK, so it's hardly surprising that he is concerned. He said: "Given the appalling track record of data loss, this state is simply not to be trusted with such private information."

A Home Office spokesperson said that any plans they consider would take privacy into account. They said: "These powers will continue to be subject to strict safeguards to ensure the right balance between privacy and protecting the public."

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