Police ‘Not snooping’ by examining phone call and web habits

Web surveillance

The UK Home Office is once again planning to gain access to citizen’s communication data (details of phone calls and web sites visited – but not the call content). Currently British ISPs collect this data and keep it for a year under European Union law, but the Home Office is proposing to expand the law to allow real-time access to the data.

Dick Fedorcio, Scotland Yard’s current Communications Chief, is on “extended leave” after being heavily implicated in the News of the World phone hacking scandal.

The UK’s Information Commissioner (who did nothing when HMRC lost disks containing personal data of 25 million people in 2007) astutely pointed out that “strict safeguards” must be in place if the system goes ahead. Indeed.

The Crime Prevention Minister said that communication data was used by police in 95% of all serious crime and terrorism cases – over 500,000 times in 2010 – and that extending police access to such data was crucial. He denied that the plan constituted “police snooping”. It isn’t clear why, if the data is currently so frequently used, more powers are needed, since police clearly already have readily available access to it.

The system raises clear privacy concerns – not least, the question of who will have access to the data under the new scheme. Although accessing the contents of a call would still require authorisation from the Home Secretary, access to call details could be authorised from within the police service. This is the same police service whose officers were heavily implicated in the News of the World phone hacking scandal, not to mention several cases of unlawful use of the Police National Computer to gain access to personal data.

Does the plan for access to this data violate privacy? Is the plan worth it in exchange for increased ability to combat serious crime and terrorism? If users have committed no crime, do they have nothing to fear? The article raises a lot of questions which could make for a very long ITGS debate!

Source: BBC News article

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