Police want power to store all emails

Law enforcers want the power to store every email passing through the UK, even though the plan will contravene human rights legislation and be physically impossible

Police in the UK are to push for powers to store logs of all UK Internet traffic for up to five years, it was said today at the launch of the National High Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU).

Roger Gaspar, deputy director general of the National Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS), said that police in the UK would call for legislation allowing Internet traffic to be stored for years for investigation purposes.

"There is gap in the legislation that has to be got rid of," he said. "We're saying we need debate about what kind of data is held and for how long."

Gaspar said that, as organised criminals move to the Internet, police need new capabilities to gather forensic evidence. In December of last year, police and members of Britain's intelligence services first called for powers to log Internet data, suggesting that messages should be stored for up to seven years

Gaspar said that the police would not want to store the data themselves and would ensure that safeguards were implemented to protect individual privacy. The new head of the NHTCU said that the unit would not mean the beginning of Big Brother-style surveillance. "There is no intention whatsoever of randomly intercepting people's emails," he said.

Gaspar, however, added that police would argue that investigators should have access to data stored for up to five years. "Traffic data is now the eyewitness and the fingerprint. If we are going to be successful, we have to have access to that data," he said.

Proposals for such data storing powers were met with hostility from civil liberty groups. Malcolm Hutty, director of the Campaign Against Censorship of the Internet in Britain, said that any sort of hoarding would contravene the Human Rights Act, introduced in the UK in October of last year to consolidate the European convention on human rights.

"It goes absolutely against the right to be presumed innocent," said Hutty. "Losing your privacy shouldn't happen just because it is convenient. It is enshrined in the Human Rights Act."

Director of government thinktank the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) Caspar Bowden said that such powers would go against European data protection regulations and be "disproportionate" to the threat posed by criminals. He supports instead the idea that police request ISPs to wiretap particular users for a specific investigation.

Bowden is concerned that the government may not be encouraging an open discussion. "Gaspar says that he wants dialogue but what's he doing about it?" he asked.

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