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Snooping laws under scrutiny

Watchdogs call for public comment

This year's 'Scrambling for Safety' public meeting, to be held on May 14 at the Hong Kong theatre in London's Aldwich, will give members of the public a chance to question the government's 'snooping laws'.

Now in its sixth year, the conference — organized by civil liberties group Privacy International and the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) — will assess government plans to "retain and snoop on the communications and internet activity of everyone in the UK".

"The government believes it has an automatic right to snoop on a wide spectrum of very sensitive communications information. The public will doubtless have a different view. The current consultations raise important questions about the right to privacy and the measures that must be taken to protect the individual," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International.

The Home Office has already agreed to scrap extensions to the RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act), which would give many low-level government departments access to retained telecom and internet data.

But clear indications as to how long ISPs and telecom companies should hold data for and at what cost, plus exactly which bodies will be able to request data and under what circumstances have still not been revealed — these details are expected at the end of the government's consultation period, which closes on 3 June.

The FIPR is not convinced that the consultation period will change government plans.

"The data retention consultation is a sham. The Home Office has failed to address any of the well known substantive issues and are merely going through the motions so that they can come back with a compulsory scheme," said Ian Brown, spokesman at FIPR. " The Home Office needs to drop data retention and start again, perhaps with a targeted preservation scheme such as seems to be successful in the USA."

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