British government backs down over database plan

April 27, 2009 By JILL LAWLESS , Associated Press Writer

(AP) -- The British government said Monday it wants communications companies to keep records of every phone call, e-mail and Web site visit made in the country. But it has decided not to set up a national database of the information, a proposal that had been condemned as a "Big Brother"-style invasion of privacy by civil liberties groups.

The government said in October it was considering a central database of phone and Internet traffic as part of a high-tech strategy to fight terrorism and crime.

But Home Jacqui Smith said Monday the plan had been dropped.

A document outlining the department's proposals said the government "recognizes the privacy implications" of a database and "does not propose to pursue this approach."

Instead, the government said it was backing a "middle way" that would see service providers store and organize information on every individual's phone and so that it could be accessed by police and other authorities on request.

The Home Office estimated introducing the new system would cost up to 2 billion pounds ($3 billion).

Under current rules, British Internet service providers are already required to store records of Web and e-mail traffic for a year. The new proposals would also require them to retain details of communications that originated in other countries but passed across British networks - for example if someone in Britain accessed a U.S.-based e-mail account.

Industry group the Internet Service Providers Association said companies would want the government to compensate them for the cost of keeping the data. Secretary-general Nicholas Lansman said the group would hold talks with the Home Office on details of the proposal.

The government said providers would not store the content of calls, e-mails or . They would retain details of times, dates, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and Web site URLs.

Smith said officials had to strike "a delicate balance between privacy and security," but insisted police and intelligence agencies needed more tools to fight crime and terrorism in an ever-more complex online world.

"Advances in communications mean that there are ever more sophisticated ways to communicate and we need to ensure that we keep up with the technology being used by those who would seek to do us harm," Smith said.

The proposals are still a long way from becoming law. The government is seeking public comment until July, and widespread opposition is expected.

Chris Grayling, law-and-order spokesman for the opposition Conservatives, said the government had "built a culture of surveillance" and should scale down its proposals.

"Too many parts of government have too many powers to snoop on innocent people and that's really got to change," he said.

The government said there would be strict safeguards on who could access the information, but critics say existing surveillance powers have been abused by local authorities investigating relatively trivial offenses such as littering or failing to clean up dog mess.

That led the government in December to say it would clamp down on abuses of surveillance laws.

Trust in the government also has been hit by a series of lost data incidents. In November, a government department lost a disk that contained the names, addresses and bank details of 25 million people.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explore further: The Web: Europe's cyber privacy declines

Related Stories

The Web: Europe's cyber privacy declines

December 21, 2005

The European Union is no longer the online privacy sanctuary that it once was, as government officials there are enacting a new Internet monitoring law in the aftermath of last summer's London train bombings, experts tell ...

Amnesty: Web Companies Violating Rights

July 20, 2006

(AP) -- Amnesty International accused Yahoo, Microsoft and Google on Thursday of violating human rights principles by cooperating with China's efforts to censor the Web and called on them to lobby for the release of jailed ...

Defense has Internet transition plan

June 30, 2005

The U.S. Defense Department is the only government agency that has put together a plan for switching to the next generation Internet, reports.

Japan to stage mock cyberattacks

October 5, 2005

Japan will conduct nationwide exercises next year to prepare effectively for cyberattacks on computer networks.

Post-Sept. 11 surveillance impact studied

September 14, 2005

A Canadian study indicates people four years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are becoming uncomfortable with increased government surveillance.

Recommended for you

Cryptocurrency rivals snap at Bitcoin's heels

January 14, 2018

Bitcoin may be the most famous cryptocurrency but, despite a dizzying rise, it's not the most lucrative one and far from alone in a universe that counts 1,400 rivals, and counting.

Top takeaways from Consumers Electronics Show

January 13, 2018

The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, which concluded Friday in Las Vegas, drew some 4,000 exhibitors from dozens of countries and more than 170,000 attendees, showcased some of the latest from the technology world.

Finnish firm detects new Intel security flaw

January 12, 2018

A new security flaw has been found in Intel hardware which could enable hackers to access corporate laptops remotely, Finnish cybersecurity specialist F-Secure said on Friday.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2009
Sorry, but this is still a "big nrother" technique. NO government has the right to interfere in ANY WAY WHATSOEVER in their citizens private lives WITHOUT PROBABLE CAUSE THAT HAS BEEN PROVEN.
This could explain why the British always need us americans help to do anything right...whether that be war, or technology....
I have to admit though, I am not a fan of the British in any way shape or form though. Historically, they screw up everything they touch and touch things they cannot control but think they can.
No offense to any brits in here, you may be fine and dandy, but my experience with anyone from over there is not good, and that includes military and civilian contact with them.
And don't get me wrong, the US is even worse in things like this, and with keeping secrets.....

The true fact is, they are using terrorists as a reason to keep this kind of information, and when it boils down to it, they are the true fact, people we call "terrorists" would not even exist if it were not for these very same governments trying to impose their will onto other countries who have the right to govern as THEY choose, no matter who disagrees with them.
I am reminded of the fact that at one time, ALL americans were considered traitors and terrorists before the founding of this corrupt and religious idealist country called the USA...and all for the belief in a false religion none the less (all religions are false, whether you like it or prove your gods existence, then I will listen)
not rated yet Apr 28, 2009
Well said Brandon! Even as a Brit I totally agree with you and believe both our governments are pushing the "terrorism" band wagon a little far to take whatever liberties from the people they feel the need to. Shame most residents of our countries have thier heads up thier ar@e and believe fighing terrorism is a just war and only a product of our governments terrorising nations until they retailliate. Tony Blair and George Bush are the true terrorists!!

Back to the subject, I am thankful that the government have decided against this database, not only for the fact it's an intrusion into our privacy but also because the UK government are utterly pathetic at handling records and personal information. Staff allow thier laptops to be stolen and our security is hardly state of the art. Recent example being....
not rated yet Apr 28, 2009
i found a brit I liked. You do your people great justice my friend :D

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.