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Last Updated: Friday, 12 September, 2003, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
'Snoopers' charter' unveiled
Internet user
Phone and internet accounts will be subject to scrutiny
Government agencies will be able to access e-mail and phone data, under measures unveiled by ministers.

Local councils will be among the bodies able to use surveillance to investigate crimes, protect national security and protect public safety.

They will be able to use the powers to collect taxes.

Initial plans to revise legislation were dubbed the "snooper's charter" when announced by home secretary David Blunkett last summer.

In a separate development phone companies and internet service providers will be told by the government to keep records of phone calls and internet visits for a year.

The British public are the most spied upon people in the Western world
Liberty director Shami Chakrabati

The civil rights campaigners Liberty have denounced the latest plans which give agencies such as fire authorities, jobcentres, the Postal Services Commission, the Gaming Board and the Charity Commission the power to use surveillance to investigate crime.

Liberty director Shami Chakrabati said: "This underlines the uncomfortable fact that the British public are the most spied upon people in the Western world."

"The government has failed to learn from its mistakes.

"After the original "snoopers' charter" was published last year, the government was forced to retreat after enormous public outcry. We hope the same happens again".

When the home secretary announced plans to revise existing legislation last year to expand the list of organisations allowed access to phone and internet records concern was raised by Liberty about privacy being eroded.

Automatic access

But a Home Office spokesman told BBC News Online Friday's announcement was about putting existing practices on a proper footing.

Under the revised legislation, fire authorities and ambulance services will be given automatic access to phone and internet data along with six other state agencies.

They will be able to access subscribers' names and addresses and details of telephone calls and e-mails made and received.

They can also get hold of mobile phone operators' data that pinpoints a user's location within a few hundred yards.

The other organisations with automatic access to this information are the UK Atomic Energy Constabulary, the Scottish Drugs Enforcement Agency, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Financial Services Authority, Office of the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland and the Radiocommunications Agency.

Crime prevention

The spokesman said the latest announcement was about providing a "statutory framework" and "imposing further restrictions" on the use of existing powers.

"The new measures set out restrictions on the data organisations can get, states that only senior people will be allowed access and specifies the reason for collating this data - the prevention and detection of crime," he said.

The content of conversations or e-mails will still be subject to a warrant.

These powers were previously the domain of only the police, MI5, MI6, government listening post GCHQ, Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue.

These proposals are about vital investigatory tools being used now to prevent and detect crime and, in some cases, save lives
Home Office minister Caroline Flint

A total of 500 other bodies, including councils, have more limited access to personal information under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) passed two years ago.

Home Office minister Caroline Flint said: "These proposals are about vital investigatory tools being used now to prevent and detect crime and, in some cases, save lives."

Only designated senior officials will be able to order investigations.

There will be regular checks by the Interception of Communications Commissioner, Sir Swinton Thomas, to ensure powers are not being abused, said the Home Office.

Agencies will be given training on the law and how to maximise privacy, it continued.

The minister said: "We need to ensure that we strike the right balance between the privacy of the citizen and the need to investigate crime and protect the public.

"I believe that the new order achieves that balance."

Q&A: A snooper's charter?
11 Jun 02  |  Politics
'Snoop' plans raise privacy fears
12 Jun 02  |  Politics

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