Government plans to let the private sector run the controversial Big Brother database to track all UK citizens' electronic communications have come to light.
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Alan West, Home Office minister for security and counter-terrorism, said in answer to a written question in parliament, on 8 July 2008, "The private sector is likely to play a major role in this work and the programme will be conducting a competitive tender and entering commercial negotiations to commission its services."
The estimated value of the contract for the so-called interception modernisation programme (IMP) is £12bn. This puts it on par with the NHS's National Programme for IT.
The enabling legislation (the Communications Data Bill) was omitted from the latest Queen's Speech, which usually signals the government's intentions. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she wanted a further public consultation on the plan early this year. So far the Home Office has not published any documents on this, but earlier consultations, dating back to 1999, are on its website.
West told parliament the database aimed to maintain the UK's intercept and communications data capabilities in the internet age. "It is a cross-government programme, led by the Home Office, to ensure that our capability to lawfully intercept and exploit data when fighting crime and terrorism is not lost," he said. It was set up in response to the Prime Minister's national security remit in 2006.