Big Brother database: the revolt grows

Labour MPs join opposition parties in attack on Home Secretary’s ‘Orwellian’ plans

Jacqui Smith faces a parliamentary backlash over “Orwellian” plans to intercept details of email, internet, telephone and other data records of every person in Britain. Labour MPs joined opposition parties in expressing doubts about plans announced by the Home Secretary which could lead to a vast database of information about Britons’ calls and internet habits.

They warned that MPs, emboldened by the Government’s decision to ditch plans to hold terrorist suspects for up to 42 days without charge, would not accept this extension of state power.

The scale of the Government’s ambitions to hold data on email, internet and phone use emerged as government sources made it clear they needed new powers to obtain details of social networking sites on the internet, video sites, web-based telephone calls and even online computer games.

Yesterday, Ms Smith said she would launch a consultation on the expansion of data and communications collection next year. She insisted, “it is a reality to which government needs to respond”.

She warned: “If you want to maintain your ability to identify where the user of a mobile phone is, let’s say… it may well be that the only alternative to collecting that data would be a massive expansion of surveillance.” Ms Smith said there were “no plans for an enormous database” of the content of your emails, texts or your phone chats.

Instead officials are concentrating on capturing huge amounts of so-called “communications data” – background information about when and to whom electronic and phone messages are sent. They argue such data is a vital element in 95 per cent of serious criminal prosecutions and has helped avert scores of threats to life and kidnaps.

Civil liberties campaigners have expressed horror at the plans. Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, warned: “Extreme caution needs to be taken. The Government needs to ensure that information-gathering is targeted and wiped and not collected just because it’s possible.”

Labour left-winger John McDonnell called the proposals “Big Brother gone mad”, while Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North, added: “There is not a lot of confidence that we can hold on to data we collect already.”

By Ben Russell, Home Affairs Correspondent
Thursday, 16 October 2008

Source: The Independent

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