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web posted December 4, 2000

Maryland town moves to ban smoking - even outside

A Washington suburb is seeking to ban smoking in all public spaces maintained by the local government - including sidewalks, streets, and patches of grass.

The ban, if passed, would give Friendship Heights, a neighborhood of 5,000 in Chevy Chase, Maryland, the most extensive restrictions on smoking in the country.

Already, roughly 60 jurisdictions nationwide have outdoor smoking bans, but the proposed restrictions in Friendship Heights are the most stringent yet, according to Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights, a group that works to limit nonsmokers' exposure to secondhand smoke. The other bans are all limited to enclosed public spaces, such as stadiums or parks, and do not extend to open areas like streets or sidewalks.

Under the Friendship Heights ban, people caught smoking or discarding tobacco products in publicly owned areas would be subject to a $100 fine.

The Montgomery County Council is expected to vote on the measure December 12.

Friendship Heights Mayor Alfred Muller, the man largely responsible for pushing the ban through the local village council, says the goal is not only to deter smoking, but to protect civil rights. Muller, a physician, cites the case of an asthmatic resident who often has to cross the street to avoid smokers.

But opponents of the ban say scant evidence exists that smoking outdoors endangers the health of passers-by. They accuse Muller of trying to inhibit personal freedom.

"A whiff of smoke in someone's face is not a crime or something we need to worry about," says Cleonice Tavani, president of the Friendship Heights Village Civic Association. "We do not need to be a police state."

Ms. Tavani says opposition to the ban is strong. She accuses Muller and the village council of trying to impose a regulation in defiance of a majority of the neighborhood's residents.

The village council first approved the ban four years ago, but pulled it from the county council before a vote could be taken, after facing vehement opposition.

Muller says a friendlier environment to anti-smoking legislation, both locally and nationwide, led the village council to reintroduce the ban this year. He cites the county council's approval last year of a ban on smoking in restaurants, along with the national tobacco settlement of 1998.

"Public areas were not built for people to do whatever they want," he says.

Poll: Fewer support Gore challenge

Six in ten Americans now think the battle over the presidential election has gone on too long and a majority of Americans interviewed before Al Gore's prime-time speech on November 27 said that he should concede the election, according to a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll.

Nonetheless, most Americans say that they would be able to accept either Bush or Gore as the legitimate president -- although, in a sign of growing partisan tensions, a majority of Bush supporters now say that they would not accept a Gore administration as legitimate.

The stakes were high for Gore's speech, since he had been losing support in interviews conducted before his televised address.

The week before, 46 percent said they thought Gore should concede, but Sunday and Monday, before Gore's speech, that figure had risen to 56 percent -- including 36 percent of those who described themselves as Gore supporters.

Pre-speech interviews give another indication of a drop in Gore's support: Two weeks earlier, a majority of Americans said they approved of how Gore's campaign was handling the Florida recount.One week after, that number dipped slightly, and in interviews conducted just before Gore's speech, only 42 percent said they approved of Gore's handling of the current situation.

The number of Americans who approve of how Bush has handled the situation has remained steady, hovering just above the 50 percent mark. In that same time, the number who say they are willing to wait at least a little while longer for a final outcome to the presidential election has dropped from 51 percent to 37 percent.

Only one in 10 say that this is currently a constitutional crisis, and more than six in 10 say that the electoral overtime has not done permanent harm to the country.

The poll was conducted from interviews with 881 adult Americans conducted November 26-27, 2000. All interviews were conducted after the Florida secretary of state officially certified the results and declared Bush the winner and before Gore's nationally televised speech.

Ontario to table organized crime bill allowing asset seizure using civil courts

New legislation expected any day would allow police in Ontario to seize assets from suspected organized criminals without notice, even in the absence of criminal charges, a government source says. Modelled after the civil parts of anti-racketeering legislation in the United States, the legislation would be the first in Canada.

It would also allow police to confiscate third-party properties, such as legitimate businesses used to hide crime profits.

Seized property would be forfeited to the state and used to create a special fund to help victims of organized crime, the source said.

"If you are the victim of organized crime, say through a credit-card scam or that type of thing, then you would have the option of applying for that money," the source said.

The fund would also be available to police forces, which could apply for money for specialized projects designed to prevent people from falling victims to organized crime.

The province will also set up an advisory "strike force" reporting to the attorney general comprising investigators, lawyers and forensic accountants, the source said.

"They are going to recommend how we should approach all these cases and what's the best way to go about it - should we go through civil-asset forfeiture, should we go through the criminal route, that type of thing."

Under the civil approach, police, with the permission of the courts, could seize any assets believed to result from criminal activity.

The Crown would only have to prove its case on the balance of probabilities, rather than beyond the reasonable doubt that characterizes criminal proceedings.

In advance of the bill, Attorney General Jim Flaherty released a report on November 27 on last summer's organized crime conference that shows civil-asset forfeiture "works great," the source said.

Flaherty has long complained that current laws are ineffective in dealing with crime syndicates, which he says run like businesses whose purpose is to make profit.

Seizing those profits, he said, is the best way to ensure that murder-for-hire, prostitution and the smuggling of people and drugs doesn't pay.

Provisions would be built into the legislation to protect innocent people from arbitrary seizures of their property.

In the United States, the RICO statute - the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act - has been successful at striking at the profitable heart of organized crime.

But while RICO deals with both criminal and civil law, the Ontario initiative would deal only with civil law.

The Tory government has been working on the idea since last fall and set aside $4 million to pay for the initiative in last May's budget.

Foes of S.F. charter school seek repeal again

A San Francisco school board member said she is ready to try to wrest control of a Noe Valley elementary school away from a private company.

Emboldened by the results of last month's school board election, veteran board member Jill Wynns said she now believes she has enough votes to revoke the charter of the Edison Charter Academy.

Wynns has opposed the academy ever since the San Francisco Unified School District allowed the for-profit Edison Schools Inc. to take over the campus in 1998 under the state's charter school laws.

"I don't see any way I would support this charter because I'm philosophically opposed to for-profit management," Wynns said. "The granting of this charter has been a destructive force, shattering our sense of community."

Edison school officials think the district would be jumping the gun given the success of its first two years, when student scores on state basic skills tests showed significant increases.

"I'd feel that revoking the charter would be a mistake because of the amazing things that are happening at this school," said Vince Matthews, who took over as principal this year.

Edison's for-profit status makes it unusual among California's more than 200 charter schools, and that's what made it controversial even before the district signed a contract with the New York-based company in 1998.

Founded by businessman Chris Whittle and former Yale University President Benno Schmidt, Edison Schools' goal is to make money by running taxpayer-funded schools.

The company relies on a common design that groups students into mini academies, stretches the school day and year and uses a uniform reading program called "Success for All."

The company now has 113 schools scattered throughout the country, including two in East Palo Alto and one in San Jose.

In San Francisco, the company gets the same per-pupil funding as any other public school, but it controls the management and curriculum.

Wynns, along with board members Dan Kelly and Eddie Chin, tried to pass a resolution in June that would have revoked the school's charter. But that resolution was replaced with another that instead amended the school district's contract with Edison Schools.

Now, though, with the addition of lawyer and college lecturer Eric Mar and public school teacher Mark Sanchez to the board, at least five of the seven board members who will be in office after January are on record as opposing the Edison charter. The other board members, Mary Hernandez and Frank Chong, have not taken a strong position either way.

"I would vote to immediately revoke the charter," said Mar, whose wife is a public school teacher. "For-profit schools like Edison have no business in our public schools."

Wynns would not say when exactly she plans to move ahead with her plans. But the veteran board member suggested she could introduce a resolution this month calling for the charter's revocation and then ask the full board to support it in January -- after the new board members have been sworn in.

Gore: Ignoring uncounted Florida votes is ignoring democracy

Vice President Al Gore took his case for challenging the certified Florida election results directly to the people, saying that people in America are equal on Election Day only if all votes are counted.

Al Gore"Ignoring votes means ignoring democracy itself," Gore said during a televised statement the night of November 27. "And if we ignore the votes of thousands in Florida in this election, how can you or any American have confidence that your vote will not be ignored in a future election?"

The Democratic presidential candidate dismissed Republican claims that he was seeking recount after recount. He said he was willing to accept defeat in the election, but only if the will of the people was determined by a "complete count of all the votes cast in Florida."

Gore said his opponents are preventing a full and accurate count by blocking that process.

"Lawsuit after lawsuit has been filed to delay the count and stop the counting for many precious days between Election Day and the deadline for having the count finished," he said.

Gore also said "organized intimidation" prematurely ended the count in Miami-Dade County.

Gore's attorneys filed a lawsuit with the Florida Supreme Court the same day, contesting the outcome in three counties where they believe Gore can still pick up enough votes to overtake his Republican opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who was co-chairwoman of the Bush campaign in the state, certified Bush the winner one day earlier by 537 votes out of 6 million cast in the state.

Florida's 25 electoral votes would give either candidate the presidency. Gore has 255 of the required 270 electoral votes and Bush has 246.

Democrats should have Senate majority briefly, won't flex muscle

Democrats will probably control the Senate for 17 days in January, thanks to the recent elections and a constitutional idiosyncrasy. But party leaders say they won't flex their muscle during that period.

Barring unexpected vacancies, Republicans are sure to regain control of the Senate when the 17 days expire, allowing them to retaliate for or undo anything Democrats might achieve. For that reason and others, Democrats say they won't press their brief advantage.

"I believe it's important to start off the new Congress on the right foot, to create a more conducive environment for better relationships" between the parties, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said in an interview on November 28. "I don't think you achieve that by attempting to do something that might generate a short-term advantage" but could be undone and would create partisan friction, he said.

"I'm pleased to hear them say that," said Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, a GOP leader. "Obviously, if that were attempted ... we would just find ourselves in gridlock. I don't think Democratic or Republican senators want to start the new year in a state of gridlock."

Top Senate Democrats will continue to demand parity -- or something close to it -- when it comes to permanently organizing committees and setting the Senate's agenda during the two years of the incoming 107th Congress.

That will be settled in negotiations with Republican leaders. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said earlier last month that he envisioned discussing how committee memberships would be divided between the parties and "working with them on the agenda" of the Senate. But he added, "I don't think they can expect to run the place."

The Constitution calls for the new Congress to convene on January 3. When it does, it will be split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, assuming that a recount confirms that Democrat Maria Cantwell narrowly ousted GOP Sen. Slade Gorton in Washington state.

But under the Constitution, the next president is not sworn in until January 20. That would leave Democrats with an edge for 17 days because Democrat Al Gore will be vice president until January 20 and will have the constitutional authority to break tie votes in the Senate.

Thanks to that advantage, Senate parliamentarians say Daschle would be recognized as the majority leader during debate, said Daschle spokeswoman Ranit Schmelzer. While that ordinarily gives the majority leader enormous power in setting the agenda, Daschle said he would not use that authority to ram anything through the chamber.

"I'm not anticipating seizing the moment," Daschle said.

Even if they wanted to, Senate Democrats' ability to use their muscle during that period would be limited.

A Democratic effort to control the Senate for the interval would plainly contradict their oft-stated calls for bipartisanship in the new Congress and weaken their attempt to appear conciliatory in the narrowly divided Congress.

In addition, Republicans could filibuster any Democratic attempt during the 17 days to set up committees, forcing Democrats to garner 60 votes that they do not have.

Also, once the 17 days expire, Republicans will regain control of the Senate, barring any new vacancies.

If Republican George W. Bush is sworn in as president on January 20, Vice President Dick Cheney could break any ties. And if Gore is sworn in, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., would become vice president and his state's GOP governor would appoint a Republican to replace him as senator, giving the GOP a 51-49 edge.

As Democrats have said for some time, their 17-day period in the Senate majority should let them block any GOP effort to invalidate Florida's presidential electoral votes should they go for Gore.

Under law, Congress can invalidate any electoral votes by simple majorities of both the House and Senate when Congress formally counts those votes in early January. With Gore available to break a tie, the Senate would be unlikely to block electoral votes for Gore.

If there is an impasse between the House and Senate on electoral votes, it falls to the House of Representatives to select the next president.

Pentagon to investigate why some military ballots lacked postmark

William CohenDefense Secretary William Cohen on November 28 ordered the Pentagon's inspector general to conduct a full investigation of absentee voting procedures for military personnel overseas amid complaints that Florida officials disqualified many ballots that lacked postmarks.

"The secretary has asked the inspector general of the department to look at the absentee voting process as handled by the military and to recommend any changes that might be necessary to make it more efficient, more fair and more inclusive, and to make it easier," Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said.

"The secretary's goal and his instruction to the IG is to make sure that we have a system that makes every vote count."

The investigation follows complaints that many U.S. military personnel whose votes arrived in Florida after the election were "disenfranchised" when their votes were disqualified because they were not postmarked.

The Pentagon says all military mail is supposed to be postmarked, either by mail sorting equipment or by hand, and that there may have been some confusion because military absentee ballots do not require a stamp.

"My understanding is that many of the ballots are mailed postage-free -- absentee ballots are mailed postage-free. So like franked mail on (Capitol) Hill, they frequently are not postmarked because there's not a stamp to cancel," said Bacon.

"So one of the things the IG will look at, obviously, are the postmarking regulations and procedures to make sure that there's no gap between what the regulations require and what the procedures produce."

Bacon said the investigation is aimed at producing recommendations to improve the absentee voting procedures in the future, and will no have effect on the current election controversy.

"My understanding of the Florida situation is whether the ballots comply with Florida regulations and law, that's up for the Florida authorities to determine," Bacon said.

Clinton readies an avalanche of regulations

The Clinton administration is striving mightily to pour forth regulations on the environment, labor, health care and other controversial topics before Jan. 20 brings a new occupant to the White House.

The end of every presidential term brings a flurry of last-minute activities, and a transition from one party to the other generally triggers a blizzard of what has become known as "midnight regulations." After this year's close and bitterly contested election, whose winner still has not been determined, the mere prospect of a Republican administration headed by George W. Bush is making the Democrats who are now in control all the more determined to leave a lasting imprint on public policy.

Here are some of the more controversial regulations that the administration is likely to put into effect before Jan. 20:

  • A 95 per cent reduction in the amount of sulfur in diesel fuel, which powers the trucks that transport most of the goods Americans consume. Advocates hail it as the biggest pollution cleanup since lead was removed from gasoline. Business opponents blast it as the equivalent of a hefty new tax that would cripple diesel fuel production and send prices soaring.
  • Tighter privacy standards for electronic medical records. Individuals want to keep their records confidential and to be able to sue if their privacy is violated. Employers and health plans say they need the information to improve health care delivery.
  • Designation of the Alaskan Wildlife Range as a national monument, which would make oil drilling in the area virtually off limits. Environmentalists want it, but Alaska's congressional delegation is staunchly opposed.
  • The blacklisting from federal contracts of companies accused of violating federal labor, environmental and health laws. Labor unions call this a long-overdue reform. Business complains that the threat of losing eligibility to bid for contracts can encourage business rivals or union organizers to lodge false and frivolous complaints.

The Jimmy Carter administration became renowned for stuffing the Federal Register with 23,000 pages of regulations during the three months before Ronald Reagan took office in 1981. The Mercatus Institute, a research organization at George Mason University, estimates that the Clinton administration is on course to fill 29,000 pages.

And congressional Republicans, despite controlling both the House and the Senate, are powerless to stop the rules, which have the force of law. The constitutional separation of powers between the branches of government leaves Congress responsible for passing laws but gives the executive branch exclusive authority to adopt the regulations it deems necessary to administer them. That has left some Republican lawmakers fuming.

"The Clinton administration's approach to government can be summed up in three words: rules, rules, rules," said Rep. J.C. Watts Jr. of Oklahoma, chairman of the House Republican Conference.

"This administration's primary goal is to increase bureaucracy and the size of government until it invades every cubicle and every workplace in America. These last-ditch efforts are the last gasps of an administration bent on increasing the size and scope of government at every level."

And if Bush becomes president, he will not be able to simply cancel the rules left behind by Clinton. Federal rules may take effect only after a formal process: hearings, comments by interested parties, a proposed rule, more comments and a final rule. The law protects that process.

The new administration could order new rule-making processes that could lead to modification or perhaps repeal of the old rules. But that might take months or even years.

The power of the presidency and the limits of Congress were vividly illustrated earlier this month when the administration said it would restrict commercial logging and road building in national forests. There was little congressional Republicans could do except fulminate.

Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska) called the administration's plan, which would severely restrict timber harvests in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, an "outrageous exercise of arbitrary decision-making."

Murkowski and three other Republican lawmakers--Sen. Larry E. Craig of Idaho and Reps. Don Young of Alaska and Helen Chenoweth-Hage of Idaho--sent a letter recently to the General Accounting Office, an investigatory arm of Congress, calling for a review of the new forest rules "under the provisions of the newly enacted Truth in Regulating Act."

A Craig spokesman said the senator would pursue legislation to block the policies. But he will face an uphill struggle, given the slim GOP majority in Congress.

When Republicans took control of Congress in the 1994 elections, one of their first accomplishments was passage of a law allowing Congress to overturn regulations. It has not used the law, however, because Clinton would certainly veto anything it passed.

"If Gore doesn't win, Clinton will jam a lot of sloppy work into the federal register," said Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach).

If Clinton issues a mass of midnight regulations offensive to the GOP majority, Cox said, the new Congress might decide next year to reject them as a package. "Our greatest concern is an avalanche of regulations at the last minute."

Bush, as president, would certainly sign the Republican-sponsored legislation rejecting rules considered onerous by the party.

But it might be tough to get agreement on which rules are offensive, because of the paper-thin GOP majority in the House and the dead-even division in the Senate (50-50 if Democrat Maria Cantwell's lead holds up in Washington state).

An environmental regulation, for example, might not stir as much opposition as a rule dealing with labor standards. Majorities would be constantly shifting and disappearing.

"Each one of these [regulations] will be a battle, each one is a controversial issue," said Randel Johnson, vice president for labor and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Bush "has run on a platform of moderation, so we should not assume he will flat-out agree to repeal this or that regulation. A Bush White House will be more sympathetic to business, more than a Gore White House, but no one is taking anything for certain."

Clinton calls for tougher Brady Law

President Clinton marked the seventh anniversary of the signing of the Brady gun control law on November 29 with a call to give law enforcement officers even more information about gun buyers who fail background checks.

"This country is still too dangerous for our children. The crime rate is still too high," Clinton said.

Clinton, Attorney General Janet Reno and Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers were joined at the event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building by former White House press secretary James Brady, who was seriously wounded when he was shot in 1981 in a failed assassination attempt against Reagan. He and his wife, Sarah, pushed for the passage of the Brady bill, which required background checks for gun buyers.

To improve enforcement, Clinton said he called on Reno and Summers to start developing a new system to notify state and local law enforcement officials of people who have tried to buy guns illegally. Currently, these officials are notified when felons, fugitives and domestic abusers try to buy guns illegally. The new system would provide law enforcement agencies with information on more categories of individuals who fail background checks.

The National Rifle Association reserved judgment on Clinton's proposal, but worried that it may create an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, without addressing the real problem of lax federal prosecution of those who try to obtain guns illegally.

"Since this is in the early stages, we just have to wait and see what happens," said NRA spokeswoman Kelly Whitley. "But once again, it doesn't do anyone any good to provide a new system, or more money for law enforcement, if the federal government is not willing to prosecute these criminals."

"The Brady Bill has now stopped more than 611,000 felons, fugitives and domestic abusers from buying guns," Clinton said. "Now the opponents of the Brady bill - who are still alive and well - said at the time that it would be an enormous burden on hunters and sports shooters and law-abiding citizens and that it wouldn't make much difference.

"But after all these years we now know that nobody's missed a day in the deer woods, nobody's missed a sports shooting contest and it sure made a difference. It made 611,000 differences. That means more children alive, more police officers alive, more citizens alive - fewer people wounded like Jim."

He said more than a dozen new cities will join 38 cities to participate in the Youth Crime Gun Interdiction Initiative to crack down on illegal gun trafficking by tracing all crime guns to their source.

The new cities are: Albuquerque, N.M.; Austin, Texas; Baton Rouge, La.; Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point, N.C.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Long Beach, Anaheim, Stockton and Santa Ana, Calif.; Nashville, Tenn.; Newark, N.J.; Oklahoma City, Okla.; and Pittsburgh, Pa.

Gore has won, Clinton insists

"America will be embarrassed in front of the world if the votes are not counted," U.S. President Bill Clinton said the night of November 30 as he referred to Florida's election contest.

"Thanks to the liberal -- and I mean liberal in the sense of open -- policy of Florida, in a few weeks students and their professor are going to recount all the votes in Florida," Clinton said in his most unguarded comments yet on the election imbroglio.

Sipping a Coke and crunching the ice, the president passionately dissected the minutiae of each county's votes that had robbed Vice-President Al Gore of Florida's 25 electoral votes.

In his own tally, Clinton had Gore winning the state by at least one hundred votes, and then you "don't even have the butterfly ballots (which are in dispute) from Palm Beach (County).

"Or the Holocaust survivors who supposedly cast their vote for the anti-Semitic Pat Buchanan.

"Or the Blacks voting for the first time, who were given the wrong instructions and double-punched," said Clinton, in an exchange with the Citizen at a Washington book signing.

"Now how do you explain that?" he said in the off-the-cuff remarks in front of a rapturous crowd of Washingtonians, there to applaud his former National Security adviser Anthony Lake's book signing for 6 Nightmares.

Talking about the mounting public pressure for Gore to concede in public opinion polls, Clinton asked Americans to be patient.

"The most important thing is to get the story out," the president said, sporting a light blue silk jacket and a red tie.

"If the votes were counted, Al Gore would carry the state."

Without Florida, Bush stands at 246 electoral votes, 24 short of the 270 he would need to win a majority. Gore currently has 267 electoral votes without Florida.

"This all could have been resolved earlier if all the votes in Florida had been recounted as the vice-president suggested," Clinton said. A thorough tally of the votes, including the absentee overseas ballots, would land Gore a clear victory, he said.

Clinton seemed unfazed by the controversy swirling around the election.

"Let the story unfold," he said in veiled criticism of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's rush to the White House.

In a reflective note on his own future, Clinton said: "I want to do something which is dear to my heart, which I am passionate about, but where I won't be under foot of the next president."

Responding to the warmth of the crowd, Clinton responded with a mischeivous grin: "I may not have been the greatest president, but I've had the most fun eight years."

Independent Counsel contacting potential witnesses in final phase of Lewinsky investigation

Independent Counsel Robert Ray is stepping up his ongoing investigation into whether to bring criminal charges against President Clinton for allegedly lying about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, CNN reported on December 1.

Informed sources told CNN's Judy Woodruff that Ray's office has started contacting potential witnesses to appear before a sitting grand jury. Sources say any witness list would certainly include Lewinsky herself.

Ray's deputy, Keith Ausbrook, said the Office of the Independent Counsel is taking all the normal steps in an investigation of this sort, with an eye toward resolving the matter shortly after the president leaves office.

Robert RayRay has said that a decision whether to prosecute Clinton for his conduct in the Lewinsky scandal would come "very shortly" after the president leaves office. The legal questions are whether Clinton committed perjury or obstructed justice when he denied having an affair with Lewinsky in sworn testimony in the Paula Jones case.

Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives and acquitted by the Senate, which fell 12 votes short of convicting him on a perjury charge and 17 votes short of conviction on a charge of obstructing justice.

UK Internet 'spy' plan condemned

A proposal for all Internet activities and telephone calls made by Britons to be recorded and monitored by British intelligence services has been attacked by civil rights campaigners.

In a report to the British government, spy agencies MI5 and MI6 and the police jointly request new legislation requiring communication service providers (CSPs) to log their traffic and keep the details for seven years.

The proposals, drawn up by the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), suggest that the log would help the fight against cybercrime, paedophile rings, terrorism and drug trafficking.

But civil liberties campaigners say such powers would breach the country's human rights and data protection laws and could see Britain hauled before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The director of Liberty, John Wadham, said: "The security services and the police have a voracious appetite for collecting information about our private lives, but this is an extraordinary idea."

"This would violate the principles of (Britain's) Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act and the government should reject this idea now."

The Home Office, the government department responsible for domestic security, confirmed it had received the report but a spokeswoman said no decisions had been made relating to the proposals.

"There are no plans to implement it at this stage," a spokeswoman said.

But the NCIS report, however, suggests the government is interested in pursuing the plans.

The report reads: "We believe that the (government) Home Office already accepts that such activity is unquestionably lawful, necessary and proportional, as well as being vital in the interests of justice."

Details of the report have been circulated within Britain's telecommunications industry.

The document estimates that a database to store all the information would cost about £3 million ($4.3 million) to set up and £9 million ($13 million) per year to run.

It states: "In the interests of verifying the accuracy of data specifically provided for either intelligence or evidential purposes, CSPs should be under an obligation to retain the original data supplied for a period of seven years or for as long as the prosecuting authority directs."

In July, the UK parliament approved new surveillance legislation granting the government sweeping powers to access e-mail and other encrypted Internet communications.

The laws were the first of their type to be mandated in Europe.

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