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

    Comment number 165.

    This country is full of willing sheep - just look at the idiots queuing for petrol when no strike had been announced! To those that bleat "if you've done nothing wrong etc.", once the mechanisms are in place, who's to say they can't make what YOU are doing illegal?! What is deemed to be legal/acceptable can be changed very quickly!! And the more records kept, the more chances of data being "lost"

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    They'll get is passed into law by wording it as insipidly as possible citing terrorism, crime etc, then it'll be used as a platform for governments/corporations and any other interested party to really go to town with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    It's impractical- those trying to monitor all this online traffic will soon drown in the sheer volume of it- and a threat to civll liberties. The 'nothing to hide/nothing to fear' argument is naive and stupid. Regimes around the world have based their authoritarianism on monitoring and control of the private sphere. Does anyone want to give any government this power?

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Your emails are already monitored via the less than top secret echelon system and have been for quite some time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    The State is already monitoring everything in e land and have been for many years. Why has there not been a terrorist act since 7/7 which only happened due to a big cock up my the guys with the guns. To think this is not already going on is the joke here. Get real everyone and smell the coffee

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    Is it worrying that i can't tell if this is an April fool or an actually government policy - both seem plausible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    Can anyone actually confirm this? So what if you have nothing to hide, we still have a right to our general privacy. This farce of a democratic Government is already spying on just about everything we do and selling our details on to unscrupulous shady businesses. Why can't the public stand together and march on Westminster and get this idiotic group of ministers out of power? ASAP

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    The United Kingdom has had all it's phone calls, internet, and emails monitered for many years, this has not been done by the UK's best it's best friend AMERICA. this is done from the american base near Harrogate in North Yorkshire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    Does anyone think they aren't actually doing this already? It has been done for a long time - this is just making it legal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    101. Colinlondon1 "If you are not doing anything illegal then you have nothing to worry about."

    The height of ignorance. Just being accused of a crime is enough to destroy your life. Regardless of innocence. By your rational government should be allowed access to all communications, including letters, at all times. We should never be presumed guilty and have to prove our own innocence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to worry about, why dont you people understand this?

    By teh way, when are those donor dinner details coming out Dave?

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    People need to wake up and realise just what is going on here. We are being spied upon in a mass way by our government under the guise that it is for our protection. Our freedoms are being forcibly taken from us in an unprecedented speed.

    They are en-massing an infrastructure of spy cameras that monitor us in a holy unacceptable way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    This is being done at the moment anyway (the powers that be can always deny it) so this just makes it official. CCTV, loyalty cards, social networking sites, twitter, mobile phone use, bank card uses. All watching you and me. As long as every email (official or not) that every MP sends and their web use can be saved in a recoverable database then they can do the same to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    The only new piece of this bill, is emails being monitored, and then by our own government, most of what we do on the internet is already monitored by unscrupulous people, all for there own benefit. If we look closer behind Google, as with several other social network sites. They already monitor what is being discussed, so as to provide advertising revenue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    First Cameras everywhere. Then the DNA database. Now this.

    If it's supposed to make me feel safe, it has exactly the opposite effect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    zdnet have also published this so not likely to be april fool

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    But who will watch the watchmen...


  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    is this April fools joke, how they gonna monitor emails texts and web use of 60million or so people? ;o)

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    its time that all emails are encrypted, let them waste cpu time on that. and vps with vpn are used to just surf the net.

    this is not to protect you from crime or terror as they will be use encryption(if they are smart) this is only to control and prosecute you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    I'm sorry but has anybody checked the date - I do wonder if this is an April Fool as it is the first we have heard of it


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