Stuart Millar – The Guardian

Saturday September 13, 2003

http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,3605,1041164,00.html

Ministers are to press ahead with plans to ensure that communications companies retain the records of every telephone, internet and email user, in the face of determined opposition from industry and civil liberties groups.

The Home Office announced yesterday that phone companies and internet service providers will be asked to stockpile customer records for up to 12 months so that they can be accessed by law enforcement and other public bodies.

The data includes names and addresses of subscribers, calls made and received, internet sites visited, sources and destinations of emails, and mobile phone data which can pinpoint the user’s whereabouts to within a few hundred metres.

The voluntary code of practice published yesterday has been delayed for more than 18 months because the communications industry sees it as unworkable and has consistently refused to sign up to it. But yesterday the government made clear that if the voluntary approach did not work, it would force the companies to store the data.

The Home Office also unveiled a new list of public bodies that would be given access to the data.

Six agencies – each judged to have a serious crime-fighting role – will be given automatic access to the full range of customer records. They are the UK atomic energy constabulary, the Scottish drugs enforcement agency, the maritime and coastguard agency, the financial services authority, the office for the police ombudsman in Northern Ireland, and the radiocommunications agency. Ambulance services and fire brigades will also have automatic access for the investigation of hoax calls.

A second list of public bodies, including specific departments of all 468 local councils in the UK, will be allowed to access subscriber data only, and only with the prior approval of the interception of the communications commissioner, Sir Swinton Thomas.

Only the police, the intelligence services and the Inland Revenue were given the power to demand communications records without a warrant by the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, passed in 2000.

Last summer, David Blunkett, the home secretary, faced a huge backlash after the Guardian revealed plans to extend the list to include seven Whitehall departments, all local authorities, NHS authorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and 11 quangos ranging from the postal services commission to the food standards agency.

But the Home Office minister Caroline Flint said yesterday: “We have consulted widely and listened carefully. The result is a framework that addresses the legitimate concerns of the public over issues of privacy while at the same time recognising the importance of access to communications data in terms of public protection and the investigation of crime.”

Despite these concessions, ministers are certain to face a big political battle on the issue.

Currently, records are only kept for as long as the company needs them for legitimate business purposes, such as billing and marketing. The only exception – under anti-terrorism legislation brought in after the September 11 attacks – is data that can be retained for longer because it is to be used in terrorism-related investigations.

Ian Brown, the director of the foundation for information policy research, said: “If sensitive data is stored for anti-terrorism purposes, it should not be available to a wide range of officials such as tax inspectors.”

Last night, the Home Office said this “disparity” was being addressed.

Shami Chakrabati, the director of the civil rights group Liberty, said: “After the original ‘snoopers’ charter’ was published last year, the government was forced to retreat … we hope the same happens again.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/guardianpolitics/story/0,3605,1041164,00.html

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