'Big Brother' database of all phone calls and emails condemned by watchdog

A new Big Brother database holding the telephone numbers and email accounts of everyone in Britain would raise serious data protection concerns, the information commissioner said.

Gordon Brown signalled plans to bring in the database holding details of every phone call, email and time spent on the internet by the public in last month's draft Queen's Speech.

The proposal is part of Government plans to implement a European Union directive which was brought in after the 7 July bombings to encourage uniform record-keeping across EU states.

However information commissioner Richard Thomas warned the database would be "a step too far for the British way of life".

He said: "Do we really want the police, security services and other organs of the state to have access to more and more aspects of our private lives?

"There needs to be the fullest public debate about the justification for, and implications of, a specially-created database - potentially accessible to a wide range of law enforcement authorities - holding details of everyone's telephone and internet communications."

The proposals have gained credence in Whitehall after the Government's Draft Legislative Programme last month made mention of '"modifying procedures for acquiring communications data".

The new Data Communications Bill is set to be put forward in November's Queen's Speech.

Under the plans, internet service providers and phone companies would hand over their records to the Home Office, which would hold the information for 12 months.

The police and security services would access the database if they have been granted permission by the courts.

Last year, nearly 60 billion text messages were sent in Britain, and 17.5million people accessed the internet via a mobile phone or Blackberry-type handheld device.

Mr Thomas said there had not been sufficient parliamentary or public debate on proposals to collect more and more personal information without proper justification.

He cited the expansion of the DNA database and the centralised collection and retention of data from Automatic Number Plate Recognition roadside cameras as two examples.

In a report last week, Mr Thomas warned that the public had little confidence in large organisations to handle people'e personal information.

Mr Thomas said that there had to be further consultation with the public to find out whether people wanted big databases to be set up.

"Before major new databases are launched careful consideration must be given to the impact on individuals' liberties and on society as a whole.

"Sadly, there have been too many developments where there has not been sufficient openness, transparency or public debate."

There have been a number of high profile data losses in the past few months including the loss by HM Revenue and Customs of the details of over 25million families on two CDs .

Mr Thomas yesterday served enforcement notices against HM Revenue and Customs as well as the Ministry of Defence, after an official lost a laptop containing soldiers' and possible recruits' personal details.

The notices require both departments to provide progress reports documenting in detail how the recommendations have been, or are being, implemented to improve Data Protection compliance.

Failure to comply with the notices could lead to prosecution.

Earlier this year Mr Thomas revealed that he had been notified of 94 data breaches over the past five months. Two thirds - 62 -were committed by Government and other public sector bodies.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The changes to the way we communicate, due particularly to the internet revolution, will increasingly undermine our current capabilities to obtain communications data - essential for counter-terrorism and investigation of crime purpose - and use it to protect the public.

“Losing the ability to use this data would have very serious consequences for law enforcement and intelligence gathering in the UK. To ensure that our public authorities and law enforcement agencies can continue to use this valuable tool, the Government is planning to bring forward the Communications Data Bill.

“Proposals are being developed and full details of the draft Bill will be released later this year, allowing for full engagement with Parliament and the public.” (8.17.2008, Christopher Hope, Home Affairs Editor) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/lawandorder/2403908/Big-Brother-database-of-all-phone-calls-and-emails-condemned-by-watchdog.html