New snooping plans just as invasive as central database, say campaigners

The government's apparent U-turn on the "snooping" central communications database is no such thing, privacy campaigners say.

Home Secretary Jacqui...

The government's apparent U-turn on the "snooping" central communications database is no such thing, privacy campaigners say.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced on Monday that the government is dropping its proposal for a central database on which all our internet, phone, instant messaging and social networking communications would be stored.

It is instead proposing that internet service providers (ISPs) store all the data, as well as keeping and processing data from third-party service providers, like Facebook and Twitter, that use their networks.

Privacy campaigners have been left scratching their heads, trying to work out how the new proposals are any better.

Michael Parker, spokesman at No2ID, said: "What is dressed up as a u-turn is no u-turn at all. Despite appearing to say the contrary, the government is ploughing on with what will be the most intrusive surveillance state in history."

Dr Richard Clayton, a security researcher at the Computer Laboratory at Cambridge University, said the changes "don't really make all that much difference".

"They have dropped the central database idea because it could be seen as a huge infringement of privacy. It was really easy for everyone to understand the issues."

He said that although the new proposals appear slightly more complicated, the government is still continuing to propose to spend £2bn to install inspection equipment at all major ISPs, which will then keep track of every website each user visit - including a record of who each person is emailing, and what we do on social networking sites.

"They seem to think terrorists are plotting their next attack on Beebo", said Dr Clayton.

"The ISPs will have a really detailed account of what people are doing, just in case it will be useful to the police at some point."

He said tracking terrorist activity can be done in other ways, using interception tools instead of tracking traffic.

The second part of the proposals - that ISPs process third-party data (such as Facebook activity) and link it with any relevant data of their own - means users will be given an online ID, which can be investigated by the police if they think it necessary.

Jacqui Smith said on Monday that one of the main problems people had with the central database idea was that the state would be storing all the information. The new proposals, she said, would avoid this criticism.

Dr Clayton agreed that the new plans did deal with this objection. He said, "At least if it's ISPs holding the information, there will be people at the companies who might, for example, notice if the police made thousands of requests to look at people's information in a few weeks. That wouldn't have happened with a state database."

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