Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

Warnings over plan for 'hellhouse' of private information

Human rights campaigners launched a stinging attack on the Government today amid reports private firms could soon access a "hellhouse" of personal information.

Communications databases containing details of everyone's telephone calls, emails and internet use could be managed by the private sector under plans being explored by the Home Office, it was reported.

Sabina Frediani, head of campaigns at human rights organisation Liberty, said an option to tender out data in a consultation paper to be published next month would demonstrate how "out of touch" ministers had become.

She added: "The Home Secretary should think again about embarking on this misguided consultation exercise and pouring billions of pounds into this folly when people are worried about homes and jobs."

The private sector will be asked to manage the multibillion pound database of all UK communications traffic under a key option contained in a consultation paper to be published by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, the Guardian reported today.

Former director of public prosecutions Sir Ken Macdonald attacked the policy, dismissing the notion that additional legal assurances would ensure the information is not misused.

The facility 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.

Warning it would prove a "hellhouse" of personal private information, he told the paper: "All history tells us that reassurances like these are worthless in the long run. In the first security crisis the locks would loosen."

The database, which critics claim would cost up to £12 billion, 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.

Currently the information has to be requested from communications companies, but it is not always readily available.

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."

The Home Secretary previously postponed the introduction of legislation to set up the superdatabase in October.

Ms Smith has emphasised that communications data, which gives the police the identity and location of the caller, texter or web surfer but not the content, has been used as important evidence in 95% of serious crime cases and almost all security service operations since 2004 including the Soham and 21/7 bombing cases.

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