Page last updated at 02:36 GMT, Friday, 17 October 2008 03:36 UK

Hoon defends giant database plans

Geoff Hoon and Julia Goldsworthy on civil liberties

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon has said the government is prepared to go "quite a long way" with civil liberties to "stop terrorists killing people".

He was responding to criticism of plans for a database of mobile and web records, saying it was needed because terrorists used such communications.

By not monitoring this traffic, it would be "giving a licence to terrorists to kill people", he said.

Lib Dem MP Julia Goldsworthy queried how far it would undermine freedom.

Earlier the government confirmed the controversial plans would not be in the Queen's Speech.

On BBC One's Question Time, Mr Hoon said the plans would only extend powers that already exist for ordinary telephone calls, to cover data and information "going across the internet".

If they are going to use the internet to communicate with each other and we don't have the power to deal with that, then you are giving a licence to terrorists to kill people
Geoff Hoon
Transport secretary

He said the police and security services needed the powers to deal with "terrorists or criminals" using telephones connected to the internet, for "perfectly proper reasons, to protect our society".

But the Lib Dems' communities spokeswoman Julia Goldsworthy said it sounded like "something I would expect to read in [George Orwell's book] 1984" and questioned whether the government and councils could be trusted not to misuse the powers.

She asked: "How much more control can they have? How far is he prepared to go to undermine civil liberties?"

Mr Hoon interjected: "To stop terrorists killing people in our society, quite a long way actually.

"If they are going to use the internet to communicate with each other and we don't have the power to deal with that, then you are giving a licence to terrorists to kill people."


He added: "The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist."

The plans were condemned as "Orwellian" on Wednesday by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives have called on the government to justify proposals for a giant database containing all internet and telephone traffic.

Details of the times, dates, duration and locations of mobile phone calls, numbers called, website visited and addresses e-mailed are already stored by telecommunications companies for 12 months under a voluntary agreement.

The data can be accessed by police on request but the government plans to take control of the process in order to comply with an EU directive and make it easier for investigators to do their job.

Information would be kept for two years by law and may be held centrally on a searchable database. The government had also promised new laws to protect civil liberties.

Shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve said pulling all the information together in a central server, to be managed by government, "represents a very profound change in the relationship between the state and the citizen".

In a speech on Wednesday Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said a consultation would be held on the controversial plan in the New Year but did not say if it would be dropped from the Queen's Speech which sets out the government's legislative programme for the year ahead

However, on Thursday Commons leader Harriet Harman confirmed it would be delayed after calls in the Commons from the Conservatives and Lib Dems for a debate on the draft Communications Data Bill, in which it was due to be outlined.

'No content'

She told MPs: "The draft communication bill was in the draft legislative programme and a number of issues and concerns have been raised about it.

"The home secretary makes it clear that at all times, on important issues such as these, she wants to listen to what people's concerns are, she wants to consider those concerns, she wants to consult on a bipartisan and wide basis."

On Wednesday Ms Smith attempted to reassure people that the content of their e-mails and phone conversations would not be stored and local authorities would not be able to trawl through looking for "lower level criminality".

But the proposals came under fire from critics, including the government's own reviewer of anti-terror laws, Lord Carlile, who said it would need "very strict controls".

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