Ahead of the January release of the relevant consultation papers, the European Human Rights Council has, in the last week, warned the British government that they should “rethink” plans to introduce a database capable of logging every mobile phone conversation, e-mail message and Internet site visited, saying that it would be a step toward the “violation of an individual’s privacy.”
How Will the Database be Used?
The government plans to use the database to support its fight against terrorism and points out that in 95 percent of serious crimes, this information has been used to secure a conviction and has been utilized in most cases since 2004, including the July 7 London terror attack trial.
However, many concerns have been raised at the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith’s willingness to tender out information from this database to be managed by the private sector whilst some European Commissions have pointed out that it sets a dangerous precedent. As the Guardian newspaper reports, some human rights groups are worried this could lead to unregulated information sharing when it comes to a person’s private life.
Further to this, the paper outlining the database, whilst containing some safety measures in order to limit what information will be shared and how it will be used, has been accused of not going nearly far enough in ensuring people will be protected from privacy violations, whilst the Government’s own terror legislation watchdog have reprimanded them for this plan, calling it simply “awful.”
Putting the Database in Context
The proposals for this information database come after a year of widespread criticism by human rights groups such as Liberty over the Government’s plans for a National Identity Database that would see an unprecedented amount of information being shared throughout governmental departments, forming a so-called “meta-database” something that many point out is undesirable due to the government’s inability to keep private data secure, after many important documents, bank details and visa information forms were found during 2008 on trains, in trash containers and on the hard-disks of lost laptops.
Last year the government also faced heavy scrutiny and subsequent criticism for its DNA database, having kept on file DNA profiles of around 850,000 people who had been questioned over certain serious offenses, provided a sample and then were later cleared. During a December hearing, the European Court of Human Rights deemed this unacceptable and forced the government to wipe them from the database.
The Government’s Reply to the Database Argument
The database, which would cost an estimated £12 billion, would not, in fact, contain the precise details of any communication the government is quick to point out, but would only log times and sites that the Internet or phone user was currently within. Jacqui Smith then went on to stipulate that this information is actually already available, but this plan would make that information much more freely accessed.
Spokespeople for the Home Office have said that, in the context of the information age, it would be necessary to allow the government this kind of access as a preventative measure against terrorism, but that the paper does in no way propose “plans for a database containing the content of e-mails, texts or conversations.”
The consultation paper to be published mid-January follows on from a delay in an October 2008 decision to postpone introducing legislation on the super-database, and with expanding criticism coming from other parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, as well as public concern, it is likely this is not the last we’ve heard of the information database and its use, that, together with the subject of National Identity Cards, is set to be a hot-button topic worldwide during 2009.
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