Fears over Government surveillance plans

News 20 Feb, 2012

Reports suggest the Government is planning to force ISPs and mobile operators to keep hold of communications details.

The Government is reportedly planning to force operators to store details on phone calls, text messages, emails and website visits, leading rights groups to bemoan the Coalition’s stance on privacy.

Proposed anti-terror plans would see ISPs and mobile providers ordered to store data for a year and make it available to Government security services, according to a Daily Telegraph report.

The actual content of the calls and emails would not be recorded, but numbers, email addresses and identities of those interacting over social networks would be kept.

They are not telling Parliament and hope they can slip commitments to build these new surveillance plans before the politicians really know what they are proposing.

The announcement has angered rights groups, particularly because the Conservatives had promised to collect less personal data than previous regimes.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said the Coalition had simply revised the Labour Government’s Intercept Modernisation Programme, which was ditched in 2009.

“Labour’s online surveillance plans have hardly changed but have been rebranded. They are just as intrusive and offensive,” Killock said.

“The Coalition opposed Labour’s plans in opposition. Now, despite civil liberties commitments from Conservatives and Lib Dems, Home Office officials are planning to push through the same online surveillance capabilities.

“They are not telling Parliament and hope they can slip commitments to build these new surveillance plans before the politicians really know what they are proposing.”

Security services reportedly lobbied home secretary Theresa May to get stronger powers, over fears about terrorist use of communications.

With the London Olympics coming up, fears over terrorist activity are heightened.

“It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public,” a Home Office spokesperson said.

“We meet regularly with the communications industry to ensure that capability is maintained without interfering with the public’s right to privacy.

“As set out in the Strategic Defence and Security Review we will legislate as soon as Parliamentary time allows to ensure that the use of communications data is compatible with the Government’s approach to civil liberties.”

A BT spokesperson added: “BT adheres to all legislation applying to its activities and co-operates fully with law enforcement agencies.”