Govt on back-foot over phone database

Government plans to create a database of every phone call and email sent in the UK are facing sustained criticism from the independent reviewer of counterterrorism laws.

Lord Carlile said the “raw idea” of a database was “awful”.

That statement has upset Home Office efforts to save the issue from a series of victories for civil libertarians – in the form of private coroner’s inquests and 42-day detention.

Home office secretary Jacqui Smith was in Canary Wharf launching a consultation on the plans today.

“Our ability to intercept communications and obtain communications data is vital to fighting terrorism and combating serious crime,” she said.

The government pledges to only collect data about calls and emails, such as the identity of the caller and where they are calling, rather than the actual content.

“The communication revolution has been rapid in this country and the way we intercept data needs to change too,” Ms Smith continued.

The database would cost around £1 billion. It would force internet service providers and telecoms companies are to give the Home Office massive bundles of telephone and internet records. They would then be stored for a year with security services being given free access.

Dominic Grieve, shadow home secretary, said: “The government must justify the case for any such massive increase in state acquisition, sharing and retention of data, spell out the safegua”These proposals are incompatible with a free country and a free people.” rds to prevent abuse and – given its appalling record – explain how it will protect the integrity of any database holding sensitive personal data.”

Chris Huhne, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: Liberal Democrat Shadow Home Secretary, Chris Huhne said: “The government’s Orwellian plans for a vast database of our private communications are deeply worrying. I hope that this consultation is not just a sham exercise to soft-soap an unsuspecting public.

“These proposals are incompatible with a free country and a free people.”

Lord Carlile argued that, at the very least, there should be rules as to why and how security services access the information such as the rules currently governing phonetapping.

He told The Independent: “As a raw idea it is awful. However it is a question of degrees and how it is developed. Searches should be made on a case-by-case basis with appropriate reviewing measures so that they can’t be done willy-nilly by government.”

Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, called the plans as “a step too far for the British way of life”.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “This is another example of the government’s obsession with gathering as much information on each of us as possible in case it might prove useful in the future.”