Email and web use 'to be monitored' under new laws

 

Senior Conservative backbencher David Davis criticised the plans

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The government will be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK under new legislation set to be announced soon.

Internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ access to communications on demand, in real time.

The Home Office says the move is key to tackling crime and terrorism, but civil liberties groups have criticised it.

Tory MP David Davis called it "an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people".

Attempts by the last Labour government to take similar steps failed after huge opposition, including from the Tories.

'Unprecedented step'

A new law - which may be announced in the forthcoming Queen's Speech in May - would not allow GCHQ to access the content of emails, calls or messages without a warrant.

But it would enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long. They would also be able to see which websites someone had visited.

In a statement, the Home Office said action was needed to "maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes".

Start Quote

The government will be able to get at it with no by or leave from anybody”

End Quote David Davis Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary

"It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public," a spokesman said.

"As set out in the Strategic Defence and Security Review we will legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows to ensure that the use of communications data is compatible with the government's approach to civil liberties."

But Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary David Davis said it would make it easier for the government "to eavesdrop on vast numbers of people".

"What this is talking about doing is not focusing on terrorists or criminals, it's absolutely everybody's emails, phone calls, web access..." he told the BBC.

"All that's got to be recorded for two years and the government will be able to get at it with no by your leave from anybody."

He said that until now anyone wishing to monitor communications had been required to gain permission from a magistrate.

"You shouldn't go beyond that in a decent civilised society, but that's what's being proposed."

'Attack on privacy'

Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, called the move "an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran".

Start Quote

It is a pretty drastic step in a democracy”

End Quote Shami Chakrabarti Liberty

"This is an absolute attack on privacy online and it is far from clear this will actually improve public safety, while adding significant costs to internet businesses," he said.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, added: "This is more ambitious than anything that has been done before. It is a pretty drastic step in a democracy."

The Internet Service Providers Association said any change in the law must be "proportionate, respect freedom of expression and the privacy of users".

The Sunday Times quoted an industry official who warned it would be "expensive, intrusive [and] a nightmare to run legally".

Even if the move is announced in the Queen's Speech, any new law would still have to make it through Parliament, potentially in the face of opposition in both the Commons and the Lords.

The previous Labour government attempted to introduce a central, government-run database of everyone's phone calls and emails, but eventually dropped the bid after widespread anger.

The then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith did pursue efforts similar to those being revisited now, but the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats continued to voice their concerns.

The shadow home secretary at the time, Chris Grayling, said the government had "built a culture of surveillance which goes far beyond counter terrorism and serious crime".

Chris Huhne, then the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, said any legislation requiring communications providers to keep records of contact would need "strong safeguards on access", and "a careful balance" would have to be struck "between investigative powers and the right to privacy".

 

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 125.

    Hi i'm a Tory... .Flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop....

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 124.

    Many commentators are saying, 'I have nothing to hide to I don't mind if my emails are read.' What these people are agreeing to is a future government inheriting the kind of surveillance system that Hitler could only dream of. And what if that future government is a BNP one? Or an islamist one? Or a fundamental Christian one? And we know that the authorities ALREADY abuse their ability to snoop...

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 123.

    They never let up, and the moment this gets through, they will start pressing to be allowed to read your emails, and listen in on skype, etc. A far right, authoritarian government, no wonder they are acting so carelessly, 3 years from now, I bet they won't have a thing to fear from democracy. They will have finally slain it. Innocent before proven guilty? Not anymore.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 122.

    It is April the First

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 121.

    If they bring this in it will be abused - just like speed cameras are; and it won't actually solve the problem. If I (and I assume anyone else with more than 15 brain cells) were to want to do something very nefarious, I wouldn't stick any details in an email ! Whilst the rest of us suffer the indignity of having our privacy ransacked, others will quietly misuse the confusion this would bring.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 120.

    I have long thought that emails and post to sites such as this one have been monitored and sometimes cut short.

    Why else would such posts

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 119.

    Remind me what day is it?

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 118.

    DEMOCRACY ? Exactly WHAT did all those men and women in two world wars and countless other conflicts in which Britain has been involved , actually die for ? I THOUGHT it was meant to be democracy and freedom for ALL , not just to support an elite who are actually no better than Adolf Hitler !

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 117.

    Oh god...this will be cycling round the internet, inciting panic, forever. I dread to think how many times this will make its way around tumblr-no matter how many times it is debunked as an April Fools. Thanks for that, BBC. Nothing like tapping into a very real fear for your joke only for it to continue to annoy everyone for months after.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 116.

    I supported the previous anti-terror legislation until councils started abusing it to check your bins and the police used it in non-terror related cases. Power is power and once it's given it WILL be misused by any government agency that can get away with it. Serious criminals and terrorists will use TOR (torproject.org) etc to avoid discovery, this law will be used against the rest of us.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 115.

    This is a truly frightening development and a facility which could be misused to political ends by an unscrupulous government .... such as that now in power here. The dangers are enormous.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 114.

    Not in my lifetime. You can make as many laws as you like, there is still one important right left. My right to leave. I wont be turning the lights off on my way out. The lights went out a long time ago.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 113.

    Yet another Volte-face. - Combined with the events of the last week it is clearly evident that the Conservatives and Liberals have, and will say anything which pleases, in pursuit of power.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 112.

    Swerdna: It's fine so long as we have a relatively benign government. In the future would you want an extreme left or right wing administration to have these powers?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 111.

    I wouldn't mind total surveillance if I could trust the people in power not to abuse it. But there are enough people in power who are not trustworthy, who are abusive, for me to be very very frightened of this new legislation.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 110.

    I am prepared to accept this so long as the government allows ME access to all of its secret communication, much of which will be very nasty. And they can also reduce everyone's pensions so long as they reduce MP's pensions to the same level ......

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 109.

    MI5 and MI6 already do this under the anti terrorism laws. Anyone who reads the news would have seen the report this was coming in 2009.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 108.

    The more technology advances the more it can be used against ordinary people. They could be monitoring us as we speak and we wouldn't know anything about it. My question is who is going to monitor the monitors? I know ordinary people who have refused to use oyster cards as they don't want to be tracked. I guess that we will have to go back the dark ages of sending letters via Royal Mail etc....

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 107.

    There used to be a law called "The Interception of communications Act 1955" until recently. Interception could only happen with a warrent signed by the Secretary of State. Perhaps he/she will be to busy having lunch at No 10 with their mates.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 106.

    Comment #49. thesilentpsycho

    I could not agree more, what a bunch of hopeless Hooray Henry's we have in charge. The opposition too are sadly lacking!

 

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