Page last updated at 18:48 GMT, Saturday, 12 July 2008 19:48 UK

Fears grow over information plans

Mobile phone user
All mobile phone calls, text messages and e-mails could be accessed

Government plans to collect more data on mobile phone calls and internet usage have been further criticised as an attack on civil liberties.

The government is considering a new system which will automatically retrieve communications information from a centralised database.

Liberal Democrat Norman Baker said it was another example of Britain's "surveillance society".

The Home Office says intercepting data is vital to fight crime and terrorism.

At present, the police and intelligence agencies can ask telecommunication providers for information on phone calls made, texts sent and internet sites visited.

That request can be queried and might then go to the Interception Commissioner, and possibly even further to another watchdog.

But under the new proposals, that right will be removed.

'Draconian power'

Stuart Ward, who works in the telecommunications industry, told BBC Radio 4's iPM programme about the Home Office's plans for a new system to remove companies like his from the information-gathering process.

With any draconian power there needs to be oversight and control of an independent nature
Stuart Ward
Telecomms industry

"The Home Office wants to insert probes into the network so there would not be any oversight by any external party of those intercepts," he said.

"They would just retrieve the information direct from the probes and process them."

The system would work by placing computers within the network which would process all the customer information travelling across it.

They would collect a range of information including numbers dialled, websites visited and location of the mobile phone being used.

Mr Ward said it would effectively mean those requesting the information would be overseeing themselves.

"With any draconian power there needs to be oversight and control of an independent nature," he said.

Power balance

A Home Office spokeswoman said "information about communications is a vital investigative and evidential tool" for police and the intelligence agencies, and it was important to keep up-to-date with technology.

She said methods of communicating such as e-mail and social networking sites had become increasingly important, and the draft Communications Data Bill would "update the legal framework to ensure the law continues to provide for the collection and retention of data".

Norman Baker, MP for Lewes, said while technology had moved on "apace", the protections for the individual had not moved on in parallel.

"We have a situation where the balance of power between the state and the individual, which is a key determinate of how a democracy is functioning, has increasingly shifted towards the state as technology has improved," he said.

He said his concerns about the draft bill would be shared by other MPs but the government would try to silence those opposed to the new law by accusing them of being "soft on terrorism".

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Confusion over 'data snooping' laws
14 Feb 07 |  Technology


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