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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 11 March, 2003, 13:58 GMT
Cautious response to 'snoop' plans
Magnifying glass
Fewer public bodies will have access to data
There has been a cautious welcome to the UK Government's revised plans for internet and phone snooping.

Following a summer of discontent and lobbying from privacy and human rights groups, the government backed down on proposals to allow a multiplicity of public bodies access to personal data.

Instead it is now suggesting a major overhaul over who should access internet, e-mail and phone records and the role that internet service providers must play in enabling this.

Under new proposals to discussion until June, the government suggests that only a handful of public authorities should have unfettered access to data.

Secretive office

These are likely to include the emergency services, which need such access to locate calls and to trace hoaxers, and the Serious Fraud Office which uses personal data to investigate criminal activity.

It would have been very easy to produce a set of regulations clearly stating that the government was now on the side of citizens rights,
Simon Davies, Privacy International

Other bodies will only be granted access after approval from a watchdog such as the Interception of Communications Commissioner.

"On the face of it, this is one of the most reasonable documents ever to come out of the Home Office," commented Simon Davies, Head of Privacy International, one of the lobby groups which spearheaded the summer protests.

However he is not convinced that the Interception of Communications Commissioner, which he describes as "one of Whitehall's most secretive offices," is an appropriate body to be dishing out warrants for data searches.

Neither is he happy with the general tone of the consultation.

"It would have been very easy to produce a set of regulations clearly stating that the government was now on the side of citizens rights," he said.

"I would have expected rock sold commitments but instead the government is saying 'let's have another debate'. I'd have thought we were beyond that and now we seem to be back to square one," he added.

Retaining data

The document also looks at how law enforcement agencies, which already have access to a substantial amount of data, can work with internet service providers to ensure they can get the information they need.

This area too has been fraught with controversy, as internet service providers complain that proposals to force them to store data for years at a time could cost millions.

The paper recommends that service providers should retain data for a maximum period of a year, with different time limits for different types of data.

It is still hopeful that the industry can make this work voluntarily but does not rule out the possibility of making it compulsory.

Nicholas Lansman, Secretary General of ISPA (Internet Service Providers' Association) is pleased that the government has listened to the concerns of the net industry.

"It is just frustrating that it has taken so long," he said.

But the government still needs to clarify how the legislation will work in practice.

"ISPA will be submitting suggestions about cost recovery and how to make sure the legislation is workable and practical," he added.

The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The plan is controversial and sensitive"

Revised 'snoop' plans outlined
11 Mar 03 |  Politics
At-a-glance: Revised 'snoop' plans
11 Mar 03 |  Politics
UK stands firm on snooping laws
30 Jan 03 |  Technology
MPs urge changes to net snooping laws
28 Jan 03 |  Technology
Rethink urged over net snooping laws
19 Dec 02 |  Technology

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