Civil liberties groups condemn Big Brother proposals

Government would end up before the European Court of Human Rights if it allowed all our emails, phone calls and surfing to be recorded and monitored

Britain risks being hauled in front of the European Court of Human Rights if recommendations to give law enforcement agencies access to all communications go ahead, according to human rights organization, Liberty.

The group says giving agencies access to all citizens' communications would be a breach of the Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act.

The Home Office confirmed Monday morning that it is giving "serious consideration" to a request from MI5, MI6 and the police that communication service providers -- telcos and ISPs -- must keep the details of all phone calls, e-mails and Internet page impressions for seven years. Law enforcers claim the measures will help fight cybercrime and online paedophilia.

"We have received representation from the security services underlying the importance of communications data to their investigations," says a spokesman.

Civil liberties advocates have branded the suggestion "unreasonable" and argue that Britain could risk being humiliated in front of Europe's top court.

"The security services and the police have a voracious appetite for collecting up information about our private lives, but this is an extraordinary idea. This would violate the principles of the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act and the Government should reject this idea now", said John Wadham, director of Liberty.

Yaman Akdenis, director of UK Internet rights group Cyber-Rights & Cyber-Liberties condemns the proposals as evidence of blatant disregard for personal liberty. "The requirements are unreasonable," he says. " It sounds like they're assuming we're all criminals by default. It's not justified in a democratic society."

Under the proposal, logs of Internet traffic would be handed over to a government-run data warehouse. Caspar Bowden, director of government policy think-tank, the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR), believes that this is the most sinister aspect of the new proposals. "Once they have this they will have unfettered access to information," he says.

Currently, ISPs in Britain keep logs of Internet traffic for anything from a few minutes to a number of years. Logs will be kept for VAT records, for billing purposes or for guarding against misuses, such as spam. Police have powers under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act to request ISPs to maintain logs on suspected criminals for an unlimited period of time.

The Data Protection Act states that personal information should not be stored for longer than necessary and the Data Protection Commission has expressed concern over the storing information on all Internet users for a number of years.

The Home Office has sought to calm unease, however, by promising to investigate the implications of any changes. "We will look at all the areas where it would touch the lives of people," says the spokesman.

The document obtained by the Observer is classified "restricted" and written by Roger Gaspar, deputy director-general and head of Intelligence for the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS).

It is written on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), HM Customs and Excise the intelligence services and the governments hi-tech surveillance centre GCHQ and reveals details of a plan to invoke sweeping changes to computerised surveillance in Britain.

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