UK: Observer reveals plan to tap all communications

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"Secret plan to spy on all British phone calls": UK fronts G8 plan for records to be kept for 7 years

The Observer newspaper today (3.12.00) today published details of demands by the police, security and intelligence agencies in the UK for powers to have access to all phone calls, e-mails and internet activity. It report is based on a document which came into its possession from the UK National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) setting out demands on behalf of the police force, Customs and Excise, the Security Service (MI5), the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6, SIS) and GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters).

The demand for a new law for all records to be held and maintained for at least seven years comes out of the discussions held in the G8 group on High-Tec Crime. Public pronouncements on how long records of all communications should be held varies from one to six months. The period of seven years requested by the NCIS matches the demands of the FBI in the G8 discussions where it is being argued that every country has to have the same, extensive, time-limit because otherwise it will be impossible to track communications. It is said that if a communication, say a telephone call, involves four different countries (A, B, C & D) intelligence-gathering will be useless if countries B & C do not hold full data for the same time period.

The G8 discussions have centred on the "problems" created for law enforcement and security and intelligence agencies by the 1995 and 1996 EU Data Protection Directives which require communications data to be destroyed once it is surplus to commercial needs - after a few days or weeks. Faced with this situation the agencies attending the G8 meetings are campaigning at national level for their governments to opt out of the Directives in order to establish de facto "international standards for data retention" (NCIS).

Text of NCIS submission on Communications Data Retention Law: NCIS (cached from

Report from Statewatch bulletin on the G8 discussions: G8

"Secret plan to spy on all British phone calls", Observer, 3 December 2000

Kamal Ahmed, political editor, wrote that:

"Britain's intelligence services are seeking powers to seize all records of telephone calls, emails and internet connections made by every person living in this country.

A document circulated to Home Office officials and obtained by The Observer reveals that MI5, MI6 and the police are demanding new legislation to log every phone call made in this country and store the information for seven years at a vast government-run 'data warehouse', a super computer that will hold the information.

The secret moves, which will cost millions of pounds, were last night condemned by politicians and campaigners as a sinister expansion of 'Big Brother' state powers and a fundamental attack on the public's right to privacy.

Last night, the Home Office admitted that it was giving the plans serious consideration.

Lord Cope, the Conservative peer and a leading expert on privacy issues, said: 'We are sympathetic to the need for greater powers to fight modern types of crime. But vast banks of information on every member of the public can quickly slip into the world of Big Brother. I will be asking serious questions about this.'

Maurice Frankel, a leading campaigner on per sonal data issues, called the powers 'sweeping' and a cause for worry.

The document, which is classified 'restricted', says new laws are needed to allow the intelligence services, Customs and Excise and the police access to telephone and computer records of every member of the public.

It suggests that the Home Office is sympathetic to the new powers, which would be used to tackle the growing problems of cybercrime, the use of computers by paedophiles to run child pornography rings, as well as terrorism and international drug trafficking.

Every telephone call made and received by a member of the public, all emails sent and received and every web page looked at would be recorded.

Calls made on mobile phones can already be pinpointed geographically, as can those made from land lines. The police would be able to use 'trawling' computer techniques to look through millions of telephone and email records. Campaigners say innocent people could have such highly personal information accessed.

The document admits the moves are controversial and could clash with the Human Rights Act, which gives people a right to privacy, European Union law and the Data Protection Act, which protects the public against official intrusion into private lives.

The office of the Data Protection Commissioner, Elizabeth France, has already expressed 'grave concerns' .

'A clear legislative framework needs to be agreed as a matter of urgency,' says the document, which is dated 10 August and is thought to have been sent to Home Office Minister Charles Clarke.

'Why should data be retained? In the interests of justice, to preserve and protect data for use as evidence to establish proof of innocence or guilt. For intelligence and evidence gathering purposes, to maintain the effectiveness of UK law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies to protect society.'

The document is written by Roger Gaspar, the deputy director-general of the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Government agency that oversees criminal intelligence in the United Kingdom. Gaspar, as head of intelligence for NCIS, is one of the most powerful and influential men in the field.

The report says it is written 'on behalf of Acpo [the Association of Chief Police Officers], HM Customs and Excise, security service, secret intelligence service and GCHQ [the Government's secret listening centre based at

Gaspar argues telephone companies should be ordered to retain all records of phone calls and internet access.

At the moment many telephone and internet service providers keep data for as little as 24 hours.

'In the interests of verifying the accuracy of data specifically provided for either intelligence or evidential purposes, CSPs [communication service providers such as telephone or internet companies] should be under an obligation to retain the original data supplied for a period of seven years or for as long as the prosecuting authority directs,' the document says.

'Informal discussions have taken place with the office of the data protection commissioner. Whilst they acknowledge that such communications data may be of value to the work of the agencies and the interests of justice they have grave reservations about longer term data retention.' The document says the new data warehouse would be run along similar lines to the National DNA Database for profiles of known criminals.

It would cost about £3 million to set up and £9m a year to run.

The report demands that the Government 'should be prepared to defend our position'.

A spokesman for NCIS refused to be drawn on the report. 'I am not going to comment on a classified document that is in unauthorised hands,' he said.

Meanwhile a Home Office spokesman said it had received the proposals and was considering them."

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