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Jonathan Evans, the director general of MI5, has said it needs access to communications data to strengthen national security.

In the first newspaper interviews given by a serving MI5 director general, Evans robustly defended the government's plans to allow MI5 and the other security and intelligence agencies to intercept emails and other communications which may have been sent, or posted on websites.

He told The Guardian that the threat of an immediate attack in Britain by al-Qaida inspired extremists has diminished because a string of successful prosecutions has had a "chilling" effect. But in his interview with The Daily Telegraph, Evans expressed specific concern over telephone calls made over the internet, as such services do not collect data equivalent to the billing records compiled by conventional telecoms firms. Such records show who called who and at what time.

"If we are to maintain our capability we are going to have to make decisions in the next few years, because traditional ways are unlikely to work," he told the Telegraph.

He said that individuals' communications, as well as where they had been, had revealed UK links to the recent Mumbai attacks, although not of national security significance.

The Home Office has been preparing plans, which have not yet taken the form of proposed legislation, known as the Interception Modernisation Programme to tackle the gap perceived by Evans. This could include the creation of a single database which will automatically gather and retain all communications data generated in the UK – data including the billing records of all calls made, as well as emails sent and web pages visited, although not their contents.

Such data is currently held in varying degrees by communications providers and can be retrieved by the police, MI5 and other agencies. It is often used in court cases.

Evans also told the Guardian that the public would not want a society in which the security service monitors them all the time.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

Kablenet's GC weekly is a free email newsletter covering the latest news and analysis of public sector technology. To register click here.

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