http://www.channel4.com/news/2003/03/week_2/11_snoopers.html

Snoopers charter - have your say

Privacy

Published: 11-Mar-2003 By: Alex Gatrell

Scaled-back plans to give state agencies powers to access the public's telephone, Internet and e-mail records have been revealed.

The government wants feed-back on the consultation paper, the thrust of which is laid out below. Several agencies will have full access, and another batch will have limited access to information.

In the wake of September 11th, how far do you think these proposals balance the need for security with the right to privacy?

AUTOMATIC POWER OF ACCESS:

The MI5, MI6, Government listening post GCHQ, Customs and Excise and the Inland Revenue already have automatic power of access to private data records.

The consultation paper recommends that the following are also allowed full access:

  • UK Atomic Energy Constabulary
  • Scottish Drugs Enforcement Agency
  • Maritime and Coastguard Agency
  • Fire authorities
  • NHS trusts

    These organisations would gain automatic access to subscribers' names and addresses, details of telephone calls text messages and e-mails made and received, websites visited, and mobile phone operators' data which pinpoints a user's location within a few hundred metres.

    LIMITED POWERS OF ACCESS:

  • Food Standards Agency
  • Environment Agency
  • Royal Mail
  • Office of Fair Trading
  • All 468 local councils in the UK

    These organisations would only be able to access names and addresses of phone and internet subscribers.

    RESTRAINTS:

    Full access to communications records - such as itemised phone bills - will only be granted after judicial approval, such as the Interception of Communications Commissioner. Senior members of each organisation will have to authorise access and there will be regular checks by the Interceptions Commissioner to ensure the system is not abused.

    David Blunkett, Home Secretary said: "I take concerns about intrusion into privacy very seriously. To succeed in allaying fears of a Big Brother approach by public authorities, government needs to secure public confidence that the boundary between privacy and protecting the public is set correctly."

    Leading human rights group Liberty welcomed the changes made to access to information plans, but sounded a note of caution.

    John Wadham, Liberty director: "The original snooper's charter proposals were appallingly excessive and we welcome much of the government plan to step back from them, but authorities accessing this data should need a warrant from a judge, the only truly independent safeguard that can produce public confidence."

    DATA RETENTION

    Information about subscribers - including names, addresses, dates of birth, installation and billing addresses and payment records - should all be retained for a year, says the consultation paper.

    Phone companies should keep records for 12 months on date and time of calls, duration, numbers dialled, and - in the case of mobiles - the location of the user, it said.

    Other information, such as on text messages, should be kept for six months, as should records on e-mail log-ons, plus sent and received e-mail.

    Web activity - such as the URL of web sites visited - should be kept for four days.

    The paper stressed the importance of such data in the war on terror. It was "unsatisfactory" for the detection of terrorists to be "significantly dependent" on companies' ability to retain communications data, it said.

    In the year after September 11 there had been more than 10,000 requests for data linked with terrorism.

    "Not all of these requests have been met as in some cases the data was no longer available," it added. If the industry cannot agree on a voluntary code the Government would look to making this kind of data retention compulsory, said officials.

    In January, a group of 50 members of Parliament and the House of Lords issued a report condemning data retention legislation laws and a number of Internet firms have called it potentially time-consuming and cost-intensive.



    INTERNET LINKS

    Data access consultation
    You have until 3 June 2003 to tell the Home Office what you think about their plans to access data on you.

    Data retention consultation
    You have until 3 June 2003 to tell the Home Office what you think about their plans to keep data they gather on you.