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Critics fear that citizens sleepwalk into the arms of Big Brother

The UK government wants a massive database to store the web, e-mail, and phone histories of every person in the country – and is unveiling new telecommunications legislation to implement it.

Technology is changing too fast, said a spokeswoman for the UK Home Office, and current progress is undermining law enforcement’s ability to obtain data and “use it to protect the public.”

Such legislation would update the country’s laws, giving the government and law enforcement officials an expanded ability to obtain communications records essential for counter-terrorism and fighting crime. Under the new legislation, law enforcement would receive a brand new, centralized database of communications records, giving officers a one-stop shop for comprehensive reports on a person’s communications activities.

Ross Anderson, chairman of think-tank Foundation for Information Policy Research, thinks that such a database would require network providers to undergo substantial redesigns of their networks. As a result, service providers “would simply move abroad” rather than play ball with the government.

“It's an enormous power grab by the Home Office, and to think it will become a reality is wishful thinking,” said Anderson.

Such a database would add a considerable amount of information to the country’s already large surveillance program, complementing controversial plans for a national Identity Register and corresponding ID card that were delayed to 2012.Together, with new face-recognition technology in surveillance cameras, and comprehensive national ID and communications databases, government officials would have the ability to take a seemingly intimate view into ordinary citizens’ lives, documenting previously anonymous data with startling efficiency.

Naturally, civil rights groups, IT experts, activists, and security professionals are concerned about the initiative – particularly given previous programs’ lack of effectiveness and the government’s spotty security record.

“This would give us serious concerns and may well be a step too far. We are not aware of any justification for the State to hold every UK citizen’s phone and internet records,” said assistant Information Commissioner Jonathan Bamford. “We have warned before that we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society.”

A communications database created per the proposal would be forced to record the almost 57 billion text messages and 3 billion e-mails sent annually in the UK, a security prospect that industry officials are concerned about attracting abuse.

“Given [ministers’] appalling record at maintaining the integrity of databases holding people’s sensitive data, this could well be more of a threat to [national] security, than a support,” said Shadow Home Secretary David Davis.

“Holding large collections of data is always risky - the more data that is collected and stored, the bigger the problem when the data is lost, traded or stolen,” said Bamford.

Government police and security forces would be able to access the database only for records authorized by court warrant.

Jamie Cowper, director of European marketing at security company PGP Corp., panned the idea.

“You've got to admire the government's gall in attempting to bring in yet another 'super-database' with public confidence still in tatters over recent lapses in data protection,” said Cowper.

PC World reports that the Internet Service Providers’ Association is taking a “wait-and-see” approach before it weighs in, but it expressed concern about modifications that ISPs would have to make to their businesses and infrastructure.

Home Office officials note that much of the information desired is already available, albeit spread across different companies. This creates an unnecessary time sink and hampers investigations, it said, and a new, central database would allow law enforcement and security officials to work more efficiently.

Full details will be released as part of a data communications bill set to be announced this November. Ministers have yet to see or approve the plans for inclusion in upcoming drafts.



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RE: Rediculous invasion of privacy
By jabber on 5/22/2008 7:52:41 AM , Rating: 4
I agree. I dont beleive in this Al-Q crap either. Its the big excuse the UK Govt has been looking for for taking away our rights.

Did we worry when the IRA was bombing us every other week? NO. We just ignored it and carried on as if nothing happened as best we could. A couple of days outrage in the papers and then back to normal. I dont give a stuff what Al-Q are up to. I dont care. Someone always has an axe to grind. If it wasnt them it would be someone else.

Has Al-Q taken away any of my rights? NO. Only the Govt has. We had the 7/7 attack and for a day or two the Govt was all about "they will never change our way of life and they will never take our freedom. About two weeks later a whole raft of restrictive and invasive legislation is drafted in. Would it stop terrorism? No. Would any of it stop a bomb? No. Would it give them far more powers and ability to delve into our private lives? Yes.

I personally dont know anyone in the UK that wakes up worried every morning about Al-Q. I worry more about getting stabbed by a ill-educated teenager in the street but nothing gets done about stopping that.

Its all a sham. Trouble is I dont think any of the political parties in the UK would want to dissolve all those powers if they managed to take over govt in the next election. Its too intoxicating.

It will start to happen elsewhere eventually. Guns wont stop it this time either.


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