Orwellian Email and Phone Call Database Considered

by : Karra Maxim

The Home Office is planning a huge government database that will hold details of every single phone call and e-mail in the UK. The planned database will be populated with data from Internet service providers (ISPs) and telecoms companies.

Since last October, telecoms companies have been keeping records of phone calls and text messages, which they hold for a 12-month period. However, it is thought that the Home Office now plan to extend this to include internet and e-mail use. Police officers and the security services will be able to access these records by applying to the courts for a warrant.

Plans for this database are at a very early stage, but it is thought that they might be included in the draft Communications Data Bill later this year. A Home Office spokesperson justified the database by claiming that it would help protect national security and prevent crime. The spokesperson said: "The Communications Data Bill will help ensure that crucial capabilities in the use of communications data for counter-terrorism and investigation of crime continue to be available."

The Information Commission, which is an independent authority that protects personal information, believes that this database might "be a step too far" for the government, as well as being a huge security risk. Jonathan Bamford of the Information Commission said that his company had "concerns" over the planned database. He said: "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. We have real doubts that such a measure can be justified, or is proportionate or desirable. We have warned before that we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society. 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."

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis was also quick to criticise the idea. He said: "This could well be more of a threat to our security than a support." Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne echoed this opinion, stating that the move was "an Orwellian step too far." He also said that the government "were not to be trusted" with private data, following recent data protection scandals. He said: "Given the appalling track record of data loss, this state is simply not to be trusted with such private information."

Still, a Home Office spokesperson said that any plans would take the public’s need for privacy into account. They said: "These powers will continue to be subject to strict safeguards to ensure the right balance between privacy and protecting the public."