The Home Secretary has defended plans for a super database of everyone’s telephone calls, emails and internet use as a necessary weapon to tackle organised crime and terrorism.
A consultation paper into the communications traffic database, which critics claim could cost up to £12 billion, will be launched later this month.
Human rights campaigners have already launched a stinging attack on the proposals which could see private firms running the computer system, with Sabina Frediani from human rights group Liberty branding it a “folly”.
But the Home Secretary and Redditch MP said “doing nothing was not an option” if police and the security services were to tackle serious crime and terrorism.
Ms Smith emphasised that communications data, which gives police the identity and location of the caller, texter or web surfer but not the content, had been important evidence in 95 per cent of serious crime cases and almost all security service operations since 2004.
“If we want to maintain the capacity we have at the moment to make sure we are able to gather the necessary data to bring to justice serious criminals we need to change the way we collect it,” she said.
“The status quo will mean we are less able to keep communities safe.”
She added: “Unless we do something, it will become much more difficult for police and the security services to keep us safe from terrorism and serious crime.”
The Home Office said the planned database would ensure police and security services had access to vital data which may not be saved by telephone or internet providers and was necessary to keep up with technological advances in the communications industry.
Ms Smith stressed it would not feature the content of communications, but only the details of internet sites visited and what emails and telephone calls have been made, to whom and at what times.
Ms Smith spoke of the plans during a visit to Crabbs Cross, in her Redditch constituency, for the unveiling of the Policing Pledge.
The move is designed to give residents a greater say on the issues they want police to tackle, whilst also guaranteeing them increased feedback on what was being done and an increased visibility of police officers in their communities.
Ms Smith was told how joint working between local police, residents and businesses had led to a 70 per cent reduction in anti-social behaviour in their area.
She said: “Local people are our best weapon in helping to fight crime and anti-social behaviour. They need to know what they can expect from the police and the police service.
“I passionately believe that building confidence by giving people more local crime information, listening to their concerns and making their priorities our priorities we will drive up the quality of policing for them and their communities.”