Page last updated at 19:34 GMT, Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Call to publish database briefing

A woman using a mobile phone
Phone companies have been briefed on the government's proposals

The government is under pressure to publish details of its planned database of all phone and internet records.

Phone companies and internet service providers, including BT, AOL, O2 and BSkyB, were reportedly briefed about the proposals earlier this month.

But the government did not reveal what was said at the meeting.

Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury has called on ministers to publish the PowerPoint presentation they gave, saying it was "essential" for a proper public debate.

According to press reports, the companies were told that so-called "black boxes" will be used to collect every e-mail and web visit in the UK.

The black boxes would automatically retain and store raw data from the internet before transferring it to a central database controlled by the government.

Consultation

This type of technology is thought to be an attractive option for the internet industry as it would be secure and not require direct input from the companies.

At the moment, the information is held by the individual companies under a voluntary agreement.

The government says billing information, on the time, date, destination and location of calls and e-mails, is already used in "95%" of serious crime investigations and it needs to update the method of gathering data to keep pace with technology.

It says plans for the giant database have not been confirmed and the government will not gather or store the content of e-mails and phone calls.

It is essential, absolutely vital, that people know the details if they are going to make proper comments
Lord Avebury

It has pledged a full public consultation on the proposals in the new year, ahead of the publication of the Communications Data Bill.

But Lib Dem peer Lord Avebury has said the public must be in full possession of the facts, otherwise the debate would be dominated by ill-informed speculation.

He said the "first step" would be for the government to publish the PowerPoint presentation it gave to the internet industry.

And he accused security minister Lord West of dodging the question when he called on him to publish the document in the House of Lords on Monday.

"It is essential, absolutely vital, that people know the details if they are going to make proper comments," Lord Avebury told the BBC News website.

"The first task is to get the PowerPoint presentation into the open. If he refuses to give me it, that will be even more damaging to their case."

'Unpleasant people'

The Lib Dem peer said his main concern was that a central database would not be secure and that it could be used for purposes other than the detection of serious crime or terrorism.

"How can you possibly guarantee that it will be secure? The bigger it is, the more likely it is that there will be misuse of it," he said.

We don't recognise the term 'black boxes'. It has not been used in any of our presentations
Home Office spokeswoman

He said he would be approaching Lord West privately to ask him to place the PowerPoint presentation in the House of Lords library.

In the House of Lords on Monday, Lord West said he did not think it was "fair" for peers to accuse him of keeping information about the government's plans from them.

In reply to Lord Avebury's call for the PowerPoint presentation to be published, Lord West said: "I am very happy to do more in terms of presenting what the problems are.

"Part of our consultation is exactly that; namely, pointing out the emerging problem, the difficulty, the data that we are beginning to lose, the capability gaps we want to address, how we should move forward and the possible solutions."

He said internet and phone traffic data was already used to investigate "95 per cent of crimes and help to pin down some very unpleasant people".

He added: "Clearly, we have to look after data. We have to look after exactly what is collected and how it is held. Should it be held in a central database? How will it be done? That is all part of the consultation."

A Home Office spokeswoman said more information would be published on the government's proposals in the new year.

But she added: "We don't recognise the term 'black boxes'. It has not been used in any of our presentations.

"We have not made any decisions on how communications data will be collected and any decision will not be made until after the consultation process for our communication bill."

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