LONDON -- British Internet service providers and telecoms are being asked to retain individual user data for a year's time as part of a new move to solidify police crime surveillance.
The British government has said the information is needed to keep tabs on criminal and terrorist activities and is not linked to anti-piracy lobbying and such, though opponents see it as a potentially oppressive big-brother move.
The plan calls for the tracking of all e-mails, phone calls and Internet use, including visits to social network sites, reports British newspaper, The Herald.
Originally, Britain's Home Office Secretary Jacqui Smith sought to create a centralized national database, which drew the ire of many critics and was shelved, she announced Monday.
"My key priority is to protect the citizens of the UK, and communications data is an essential tool for law enforcement agencies to track murderers and pedophiles, save lives and tackle crime," Smith told British media such as the BBC.
"It is essential that the police and other crime-fighting agencies have the tools they need to do their job. However, to be clear, there are absolutely no plans for a single central store."
A state-run database run containing personal data was considered "extreme" and a great intrusion of citizen privacy. The government said with the new plan, its interest lies more in communications rather than content.
Companies such as BT, Virgin Media, O2 and others will be required to keep a customer's personal data with regard to phone and Web usage for up to 12 months. Law enforcement and other security agencies will have to request data from the ISPs and telecoms on a case-by-case basis.
"What we are asking the industry will put a burden on them," Smith said, adding companies would be "recompensed" in some manner.
According to the Financial Times the Home Office will spend 2 billion pounds (about $3 billion) over 10 years to pay for the new plan, which is still in the agreement stage with communications companies.
British telecoms already provide data traffic information in some form to assist anti-crime and anti-terror units.