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 185.

    Our political system has created the so called 'terrorist' via activities overseas and the mainstream media manufactures consent of the public with it's prolific propaganda and fallacious comment.

    True freedom is where 'any' for of expression is accepted by an enlightened politico not this Nazi-esk type of affair we have in-place currently that panders to the few at the expense of the many.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    To those arguing that privacy is only for those with something to hide, I challenge you to place all your bank, credit card and email details online, including your passwords.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    You do know they tried this in 2009 as well? Parliament, including many Tories, rejected it. They did it once, they can do it again. Tell your representative that you disapprove of this attack on privacy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Hopefully it's April's Fools. Even then, I hope all the government agents looks at my activity. I'm betting at least 3 days before they call quits and throw up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    The day will come...when this is not an April fools day article...


  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    We do have to take security seriously however human rights are just as important.
    Far worse is that all three of the current political parties acheivements could be written on the back of a match box. Their priority seems to be everything except the economy. Learn from history. What did the Germans do between 1920 and 1938

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    Anybody who thinks having nothing to hide is a good reason to give bureaucrats this kind of power is naive in the extreme. All your freedoms and privacy compromised for the sake of a few suicide bombers is victory for them, it's exactly what they want.

    Well done Bin Laden, dead and still achieving his aims !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    The great Firewall of UK, at last UK slips to China standards.

    When money is needed for senseless things politicians can always do magic.

    I am ashamed of my brit roots.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    This so called war on terrorism is a 100% manufacture of a tool that gives Western Governments "legal" rights to bypass any human rights laws. Isn't it amazing that every single "attempt" a terrorist is stopped. I'm sorry, but with what is capable by criminals in secrecy, there is not a 100% method of stopping such acts. Laws are to protect freedom, this law takes freedom away from us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Great news for those who are self important and narcissistic.

    All your dreams come true....big brother will read your emails and see what you write on David Icke topics.

    Me? I could not care less. I am not important enough and if they really wanted to check my activities, no problem.

    It is of more concern the level of paranoia and hysteria some exhibit ....

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    this would be front page news on the big brother watch website if it wasn't an april fools joke.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Mission impossible frankly.This will be done,if at all,by looking for keywords and phrases rather than an actual reading of individual e-mails.They're just not physically able to read each one of what must be billions of mails sent daily/weekly.They'll just add more words/phrases to the program currently used to monitor web traffic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Millions died in world war II to protect our freedom. If a few more of us die in terrorist attacks because we decide to maintain that freedom then I say that is a small price to pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    We are happy to post everything on Facebook for all to read, we are happy for Google to know everything we view. Google have been reading our emails for years. Yet we wont let the government do so in the interests of security. Why do we trust Google, Facebook and the News of the World so much but not our elected government. I am not for this change at all, but we need to put it into perspective

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    So George Orwell (Eric Blair) was only 30 years out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    Just like every other intrusive measure which has been introduced in the last decade, especially with regards to airport security, this shall not catch one single terrorist. The best way to catch terrorists is to do what Israel do, and actually racially profile, along with introducing more “human” methods at airports, as opposed to pat downs. I hope people sue Olympic security forsexualassault

  • Comment number 169.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    They may as well install camera's in everyone's homes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    The US and the UK governments use one major terrorist attack apiece as an excuse to chip way and chip away at individual rights hundreds of years in the making. Sadly the majority of the citizens of both nations are too busy entertaining themselves to death to seem to much mind. Silence gives consent, my friends, silence gives consent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    Let's just hope this is the BBC having a wicked sense of humour...


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