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Roger Gaspar and John Wadham speak to Today

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Monday, 4 December, 2000, 10:39 GMT
E-mail spy powers 'necessary'
The Home Office is considering the plans
Powers for the police and other law enforcement agencies to snoop on e-mails, telephone calls and internet traffic must be granted in order to combat modern crime, a senior intelligence officer has warned.

MI5, MI6 and the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) are jointly requesting new legislation requiring communication service providers (CSPs) to log phone calls and keep details for several years.

To collect up information on every single phone call is unacceptable

John Wadham, Liberty
The plan was drawn up by Roger Gaspar, deputy director general of NCIS, who told the BBC access to the information was necessary to fight "ordinary crime".

But civil liberties campaigners have warned that the proposals are in breach of the Data Protection Act and human rights legislation.

High-tech crime

Mr Gaspar told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is the eye-witness account for high-tech crime, there will be no-one who sees what goes on and this is the comparable data".

There was a need for regulation of how long the data should be kept, who could access it and under what circumstances, he added.

The proposals would not give powers to monitor the content of calls or e-mails but would allow access to a register of the time at which they were made and which numbers or e-mail addresses were connected.

Woman using a mobile phone
Logs of telephone calls could be kept for years
However, the manner in which the data would be stored is unclear.

One proposal is thought to involve handing over data storage to outside contractors so that it is kept at arms length from government agencies.

Many campaigners would not be satisfied with this arrangement, believing that it would offer no guarantees of protection from abuse.

But John Wadham, director of campaign group Liberty, said the proposals would be an "erosion" of data protection principles.

"What Roger is suggesting is that this information is kept for years and years and not only for the people who are suspected of committing crime," he said.

'Good evidence'

"No-one can complain if the police have good evidence that someone's telephone should be [accessed] but to collect up information on every single phone call I make just because in a few years time I might be a suspect is unacceptable."

It is said the new powers are needed to tackle the growing problems of cyber crime, paedophiles' use of computers to run child porn rings, terrorism and international drug trafficking.

Mr Gaspar warned that if the powers were not granted "the public will find our ability to solve crime is diminishing".

Several politicians, including Conservative peer Lord Cope, have condemned the plans, describing them as having "Big Brother" overtones.

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See also:

13 Nov 00 | UK Politics
'Cyber cops' plan unveiled
24 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Employers gain e-snoop powers
19 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Cybercrime threat 'real and growing'
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