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Starmer pleads innocent

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The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has clarified comments by the UK's top prosecutor, denying that he supports proposals for a centralised warehouse of private communications data.

A Home Office consultation is scheduled to open later this month on whether a system should be built to collect and store details of every call, text, email and web browsing session in the UK. The project is known as the Interception Modernisation Programme and is led by former Vodafone executive Tim Hayward.

At a briefing on Friday the Director of Public prosecutions Kier Starmer said: "By its very nature criminal investigation touches on privacy. I think the right balance for any investigation or prosecution has got to have a legitimate purpose. Investigation of crime is a legitimate purpose."

"Any invasion of privacy will have to have a legitimate purpose, be necessary and proportionate, and have effective safeguards. If those features are in place it is obviously legitimate to collect data."

Today the CPS said Starmer's comments should not have been interpreted as "tacit support" for a multibillion pound data harvesting operation. "The Guardian suggests he would support the database. That isn't correct," a spokeswoman said.

"His main message was that if any system was built, you'd need safeguards."

She added that Starmer and the CPS had not yet considered the specifics of any proposals set to be put forward, saying it was "difficult to theorise".

Starmer's hedged position ahead of the public consultation contrasts with that of his predecessor Sir Ken Macdonald. Since retiring as Director of Public Prosecutions in October last year, Macdonald emerged as an outspoken critic of ubiquitous communications monitoring.

In a recent interview, Macdonald said a centralised communications data warehouse would be "an unimaginable hell-house of personal private information". ®

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