A report by the deputy director-general of the National Criminal Intelligence Service - sent to the Home Office and leaked to the Observer newspaper - has shocked many by asking for the legal right to access records of all phone calls, emails and Internet dial-ups made in the UK for a period of up to seven years.
The proposals as they are written present a direct threat to not only the privacy of the UK population but also the data protection laws, human rights legislation and the enshrined legal concept of presumed innocence.
The document has the backing of MI5, MI6, GCHQ, Customs & Excise and the Association of Chief Police Officers, and claims that the Home Office - which would attempt to make the recommendations law - is sympathetic to its cause.
In a nutshell, NCIS' deputy director-general Roger Gaspar is asking for a legislative framework which would oblige all communication service providers or CSPs (that's everyone from BT to mobile phone companies to ISPs) to store logs of all information over their networks for seven years - 12 months in real-time and from then on archived. Currently, the need to research material more than two years old is restricted almost exclusively to murder and terrorism. Gaspar also strongly suggests that the information is stored in a government-run data warehouse.
In the report - sent to US Web site Cryptome, which specialises in such material - Gaspar lays out his case for compulsory surveillance of every UK person. In intelligence terms, it is convincing - the growth of modern communications and hi-tech crime has meant that the traditional eye-witness account can only be replaced by network data. With criminals, terrorists, racists etc etc using the Internet to bypass the police, the police will be increasingly frustrated in its attempts to bring them to justice.
One major aspect of this is that many CSPs delete data over their networks every 24 hours. Some hold the data for longer but most are fearful of the law and delete it as soon as it no longer has any commercial value. The police see this as the destruction of potentially case-breaking information.
Thus, to promote "a safe and free society", maintain "the interests of justice and fairness of our judicial process" and contribute to "saving lives", it is essential for the security services and police to know when and to who anyone in the UK has communicated with anyone else from now and for seven years. The recommendations would also go very neatly hand-in-hand with the much-criticised RIP Act, which allows the police and security services to collect Internet data without a warrant and demand encryption keys from individuals and ISPs.
This is all clearly a nonsense but it doesn't make the report any less disturbing. Since the Home Office - and Jack Straw in particular - has made it clear it is sympathetic to increased surveillance of UK residents, the security services have clearly seen an opportunity to get self-serving recommendations into law. This report - which, incidentally, contains no mention of any safeguards to prevent abuse of the system - is a stark indication of how totalitarian the government has become. ®
The report in full on Cryptome