Britain mulls plan to store all emails and calls

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Britain is considering a massive government database to store the e-mails, Internet information, phone-calls and text messages of all residents to help security forces in the fight against crime and terrorism.

A Research in Motion Blackberry is shown in Toronto October 26, 2007. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

At the moment, records of phone-calls and text messages are kept up to 12 months by telecoms companies in compliance with an EU anti-terrorism directive.

But a new Home Office (Interior Ministry) proposal would see Internet service providers (ISPs) and telecoms companies handing over records containing billions of e-mails as well as Internet usage and voice-over-Internet calls, media reports said on Tuesday.

Police and security services would be able to have access to the information after seeking permission from the courts.

The Home Office said communication methods had changed rapidly during the past 15 years.

“The changes to the way we communicate, due particularly to the Internet revolution, will increasingly undermine our current capabilities to obtain communications data and use it to protect the public,” it said in a statement.

“To ensure that our public authorities and law enforcement agencies can continue to use this valuable tool, the government is planning to bring forward the Communications Data Bill.”

The draft bill is expected to be released later in the year, but the plan has yet to be discussed by ministers.

It is likely to raise concerns about civil liberties and data protection, especially after recent scandals including the loss of child benefits information.

About 57 billion text messages were sent in Britain last year, while an estimated three billion e-mails are sent every day, The Times reported.

The government is already planning huge databases for the ID cards schemes and NHS patients’ records.

Reporting by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato