Lords opposition to comms database mounts

Peers have asked the government whether it will withdraw proposals for a centralised government database of all citizen communications

Opposition is gaining momentum in the House of Lords to a proposed centralised government database of all internet communications.

Under the proposed Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), internet service providers (ISPs) would be required to link 'black boxes' to their servers to record all internet traffic, including details of emails, VoIP telephone conversations, instant messages and browsing habits. Telephone conversations would also be monitored.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer told ZDNet.co.uk on Wednesday that the idea of the government collecting information on all UK citizens' internet communications and telecommunications, and storing it for self-authorised use, was "the ultimate invasion of privacy".

"What can I say? I think it's a shocking suggestion," said Miller. "It's the ultimate invasion of privacy. I can't imagine a good justification for that."

Miller rejected arguments from the Home Office that such a database could improve national security, and said that so much data would be collected it could slow down security operations.

"They have to spy on the whole population just in case?" said Miller. "[Security services] can already do covert surveillance on people they are suspicious of. Who will process the information? The huge amount of intercept data could dilute real counter-terrorism efforts."

Miller added that, should such proposals be included in the upcoming Communications Data Bill, she expects the Lords would not let it past.

"When that part of the Bill comes to the Lords I expect us to throw it out," said Miller.

Miller's comments on Wednesday were followed by a number of questions about the proposals in the Lords on Thursday. The questions were addressed to Admiral Lord West, parliamentary undersecretary of state for security and an adviser to Gordon Brown.

Viscount Bridgeman asked whether the government would cease planning the database, and pointed to the amount of opposition the proposals had encountered.

"Will the government withdraw their plans for a Communications Data Bill to set up a database logging every private phone call and email?" said Bridgeman. "There has been enormous opposition to the idea, including that from the information commissioner."

West replied that government plans regarding the database were still vague. "It is very early days as to where we go on this and it relates to entirely new methods of how telecommunications firms will transmit and move data," he said. "It is also early days to see how this will impact on any aspects of intercept. We have come to no decisions on any of that. It is still being looked at. It is too early to make any statement."

The Earl of Northesk then asked how the planned database would interact with the systems in the Scope programme: a UK government IT project designed to improve interdepartmental and agency communications between intelligence services.

Lord West refused to answer Northesk's question, saying: "My Lords, as I said, I do not want to go down the IMP route at the moment... We are in the very early days of deciding what we want to do and where we are going and it would be imprudent of me to step into that debate at the moment."

The government has been planning the IMP for over two years.