Britain mulls asking private firm to run communication database

December 31st, 2008 - 6:17 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Dec 31 (IANS) Britian is considering asking a private company to manage and run communications database that will keep track of all calls, emails texts and internet use, media reports said Wednesday.The decision to put the management of the country’s super database containing identities and locations of every person into private hands will, however, be accompanied by tougher legal safeguards to avoid unnecessay leaks and accidental loss of data, the Guardian reported.

The Home Office claims the new database is necessary in an advancing digital world to allow it to tackle terrorism and serious crime.

However, Sir Ken Macdonald, the former director of public prosecutions, told Guardiaan that such assurances would prove worthless in the long run and warned it would prove a “hellhouse” of personal private information.

Macdonald, who has firsthand experience of working with intelligence and law enforcement agencies, said: “Authorisations for access might be written into statute. The most senior ministers and officials might be designated as scrutineers. But none of this means anything.”

“All history tells us that reassurances like these are worthless in the long run. In the first security crisis the locks would loosen.”

In October, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had postponed the introduction of a legislation to set up the superdatabase. She said at that time that she would publish a consultation paper in the new year setting out the proposal and the safeguards needed to protect civil liberties

Until now most communications traffic data has been held by phone companies and internet service providers. But with the growth of broadband phone service, the situation has changed a lot, making it difficult for security agencies to track anonymous online identities.

The Home Office’s interception modernisation programme, which is working on the superdatabase proposal, also argued that it is no longer good enough for communications companies to be left to retrieve such data when requested by the police and intelligence services.

The potential cost of setting up the proposed database has been estimated at 22 billion pounds. However, the consultation papaer by the home secretary has an option to put it out to private tender in order to cut costs.

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