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Government logs calls and texts

A new law means data from mobile phones and landlines must be kept for a year and made available to government agencies, including the police.

The time, location and details of calls and texts must be logged, stored for a year and made available to hundreds of government agencies under a new law coming into force today. The law follows the European Union data retention act, which came into force March 2006. Earlier this year, Gartner predicted an additional 50,000 terabytes would have to be collected and stored within the EU because of the act.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Tony McNulty, the minister for security and counterterrorism, said that data collected would include the name of the phone's owner, the calls made by and received by the phone, and location data. Over 650 government agencies would have access to the data at differing levels. "And the third level which is purely for the security forces, police, etc, is not just the subscriber information and the calls made, but also the calls coming in and location data - where the calls are made from," he told the BBC. Mobile phone masts can be used to locate a device within metres.

In a statement, the Home Office stressed that the information stored includes caller details, but not the contents of calls or text messages. "Imposing requirements on phone service providers to retain data is part of the difficult balance between protecting people from terrorism and serious crime, and respecting people's human rights," the statement said.

The Home Office statement added that telecoms operators already keep such information: "This directive simply provides a statutory framework for something that telephone companies have been doing on a voluntary basis since 2004 to support the fight against terrorism and serious crime." But Nick Clegg, the home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said in a statement: "Once again this government has been caught red-handed creating new surveillance state powers with no meaningful public or parliamentary debate.

Earlier this year, telecoms firms and analysts expressed concerns about the cost of complying with the new law.


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