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Monday, 1 May, 2000, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
Spy centre to spread its web
The spy centre may be created at MI5's London HQ
The government is to build a 25m spy centre to monitor criminal gangs through their use of the internet.

The Government Technical Assistance Centre (GTAC) is likely to be used to unscramble coded internet messages, tap phones and intercept e-mails.

The Home Office, which confirmed the project on Sunday, said it was at an early stage.

It comes as opposition continues to mount against controversial legislation to allow security services access to the codes that scramble internet communications.

While no location has been agreed for the new centre, reports suggest that it will be based at the London headquarters of MI5.

'Big Brother'

Fears have already been expressed that the government could use the centre to increase surveillance of the general public.

"The arrival of the spy centre means that Big Brother is finally here," said Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker.

"The balance between the state and individual privacy has swung too far in favour of the state."

And Tom King, chairman of the Parliamentary Security and Intelligence Committee which oversees the work of intelligence agencies, acknowledged there were concerns.

Speaking to the BBC, he called for the governnment to ensure that the rights of the individual to privacy would be protected.

But he added: "You have got new technology and we cannot have a situation where terrorist groups and serious criminal gangs can have a means of communication which is untouchable and completely secure.

"Security agencies need to find ways of intercepting them. The only perfect guarantee of privacy is to allow total secrecy for everybody.

"I think it has been accepted by all that the overriding need to prevent terrorist outrages and serious offences means there does need to be the power for the police and others to intercept."

A spokesman for the Home Office rejected suggestions that there would be "mass snooping" on personal internet communications.

"Warrants will have to be obtained for every interception," said the spokesman.

"It's very important that we are competing with the criminals and ensuring that law enforcement agencies have got the tools to do the job."

Controversial bill

A campaign led by internet professionals is continuing to derail the government's Regulation of Investigatory Powers Bill which returns to the Commons to complete its final stages on 8 May.

The campaigners say say that the legislation is so badly drawn, innocent people could be jailed if they can't provide security services with access to their encryption files - an increasingly common tool of e-commerce.

They also predict that the costs placed on internet service providers in maintaining the eavesdropping system will be high enough to encourage many to site outside of the UK.

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25 Apr 00 | UK
Spy guide on the net
31 Mar 00 | UK Politics
Website campaign to derail legislation
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