Communications database may be run by private firmPrivate sector may track email, calls and texts

31 December 2008

Computer in chains

Identity fraud is a serious problem, with phishing scams on the rise

A proposed communications database containing details of everybody's phone calls, emails and internet use could be run by a private firm, it is claimed.

According to a report in the Guardian, the option to tender out the management of the controversial database will be included in a consultation paper to be published next month.

Purpose of phone and internet database

The communications database is not intended to feature the content of communications, but only the details of internet sites visited and what emails and telephone calls have been made, to whom and at what times. 

It is designed to help police and the Security Service by ensuring they have access to vital communications data which may not be saved by telephone or internet providers.

Critics claim the communications database could cost up to £12 billion. 

Currently the information on phone calls, texts, internet use and emails has to be requested from communications companies, but it is not always readily available.

Phone and email tracking plans under attack

The plans have already come under fire from civil liberties campaigners.

According to the Guardian report, any decision to allow a private firm to manage the phone and internet tracking database would be accompanied by tougher legal safeguards to guarantee against leaks and accidental data losses.

But former Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Ken Macdonald stepped up his attack in light of the Guardian's report, dismissing the notion that additional legal assurances would ensure the information is not misused.

He told the Guardian: 'All history tells us that reassurances like these are worthless in the long run. In the first security crisis the locks would loosen.'

Better data collection necessary to tackle terrorism

A Home Office spokesman said: 'The communications revolution has been rapid in this country and the way in which we collect communications data needs to change so that law enforcement agencies can maintain their ability to tackle serious crime and terrorism.

'To ensure that we keep up with technological advances we intend to consult widely on proposals in the New Year.

'We have been very clear that there are no plans for a database containing the content of emails, texts or conversations.'

Source: The Guardian and Press Association 2008

What you can do to prevent online crime

Which? Online has lots of advice on things you can do to prevent online crime and stay safe on the internet.

The Which? review of security software will help ensure you're protected against viruses and other internet threats, plus there's a range of Which? guides to protecting your online ID, stopping identity theft, and child internet safety. 

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