Police to monitor e-mails and phone calls

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Indy Politics

Phone and internet companies will be forced to surrender details of phone calls and e-mails by terrorist suspects, David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said yesterday. New anti-terrorist measures include controls on their sources of funding, strengthened security at airports and on aircraft and the detention of asylum-seekers or suspected terrorists.

He told the Commons the Government was planning to give extra powers to the British Transport Police and to extend laws on religious hatred. The moves will be pushed through over two months.

Mr Blunkett said his plans for detention could mean a temporary opt-out from European human rights legislation, but he was striking a balance between "respecting our fundamental civil liberties and ensuring they are not exploited".

He said phone and internet service providers would be told to keep details of calls and e-mails they handled and to give up the records of them – but not the content – if asked. He promised the move would not mean "ferreting through private e-mails and steaming open the post" of private individuals.

The most controversial provisions are likely to be strengthened powers to eject terrorist suspects from the United Kingdom. Measures to prevent them deferring deportation by appealing to a judicial review will be removed while those who cannot be thrown out of the country will be detained.

Mr Blunkett said: "It's absurd it can take five, seven or even, in one case, 10 years to extract someone from this country. That is not justice. That's plain monkey business with our judicial framework and processes." He confirmed the Government planned to extend the law of incitement to cover religious, as well as racial hatred, with a maximum penalty of seven years' imprisonment. Mr Blunkett said: "Fair comment is not at risk, only the incitement to hate."

Transport companies will be required to keep details of passengers and cargoes, and security will be tightened at airports and on aircraft. Police and customs officers will get the power to demand that travellers remove face coverings and gloves. The British Transport Police, and guards at Ministry of Defence sites and nuclear installations, will be given powers to pursue suspects outside their boundaries.

The Home Secretary also announced legislation to close loopholes in laws on the use or possession of chemical, nuclear or biological weapons and promised to improve co-operation on anti-terrorist measures between EU countries.

He said: "The legislative measures will protect and enhance our rights, not diminish them. If we fail now to take the necessary action to protect our people, future generations will never forgive us."

Oliver Letwin, the shadow Home Secretary, said the Tories welcomed the Bill's main aims but added: "Often there has been over-hasty legislation that has proved inoperable in practice. The best guard against this danger is detailed scrutiny." He called for powers to remove "dangerous individuals from this country". Mr Blunkett insisted that the Government's intention was to "get it right, not just get it quickly".

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, told MPs a "multi-agency terrorist finance unit" would be set up within the National Criminal Intelligence Service. It would be backed by a new task force bringing together the "best of academic, financial and commercial expertise, using the best skills of forensic accountancy in tracking assets".

Mr Brown said more than £63m in 35 bank accounts had already been frozen. New laws would freeze suspect funds during investigations.

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