UK home secretary rules out central database for communications records

[JURIST] UK Home Secretary Jacqui Smith [official profile] announced Monday that the British government will not be establishing a central government database [press release] to keep records of phone calls, emails, and Internet activity, instead leaving that job to private communications providers. The British government abandoned the central database approach due to potential privacy implications and instead has proposed that service providers store records of internet activity and phone calls. Smith published a consultation [text, PDF] Monday seeking public input on the best way to maintain communications data in order to promote public safety. Smith said [statement]:

Any reduction in communications data capabilities will seriously impair the effectiveness of our police and other services to protect the public. Criminals, terrorists and paedophiles are often among early adopters of new technology. We must ensure that our law enforcement agencies can continue to obtain communications data in the face of great technological change.
Smith said that she hopes to "continue to strike the balance between respect for individual privacy and protection of the public."

Monday's announcement follows last November's delayed draft [JURIST report] of the Communications Database Bill [draft materials], which is part the British government's strategy for fighting terrorism and other crimes. The proposed bill has garnered many critics. In October, the office of Information Commissioner Lord Carlile took the extraordinary step of calling the bill a "step too far for the British way of life." Also in October, outgoing UK Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald warned against the expansion of government power in gathering intelligence [JURIST report] and prosecuting suspected terrorists, saying that present decisions about how the government should use technology to protect security are likely to be permanent. Recent high-profile news stories about losses of data by British government official and agencies [Independent report] have heightened concerns over the legislation.

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