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 225.

    They use software that looks and listens for key words....they already use it but dont admit it, now they want to make this legal makes you wonder what their doing now and not telling you.
    In America they brought in law that enables them to pick up and hold anyone indefinetly without legal representation is that next

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Aah the thought police will be next.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    All these comments from people who believe that this is a good should be ashamed of yourselves! Slowly but surely this government is taking away our freedom and our privacy. What's next that you'll lie down and roll over on?!
    Start thinking for yourselves instead of what you're fed by this excuse for a Government!

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    If this is an April Fools day story it is not funny.
    If it not an April Fools day story it is not funny

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    Great day to release a story like this. Or is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    What gets me is the sheer hypocrisy of the conservatives, to oppose it when labour try to introduce it and then introduce it themselves when in government just shows the complete lack of sincerity of these people, politicians are soulless and only in it for the power, they do not seem to have a conscience and cannot be trusted, whatever party they currently use to get that power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.


  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    Just the start.

    With God & faith eliminated/marginalised, authories have taken the role of God so is answerable to no-one. And God watches, so must we in His place. The ultimate aim is, in real time (or the future, Minority Report style) to know where all are, or do or think & spend - in the name of safety & security we'll submit to the authorities who make it too dangerous to exist without it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    So what exactly has changed since the tories opposed this a few years ago?
    I would imagine they'd be keeping their traps shut after the display of incompetence we've witnessed over the past few weeks.

    Give the tories enough rope and they will hang themselves.

    Slowly but surely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    I suppose they will read all these comments now saying how they are the one of the most unpopular governments in memorable history...

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    APRIL FOOL EVERYONE...Oh Dear t.his is serious we are being run
    by a bunch of fools so anything is possible !

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    In response to those saying that they can not monitor 60 million peoples Emails and phone calls. Yes they can and yes they do. The only difference is that right now they do it secretly behind closed doors. It's all about keywords, both spoken and written. Say or type one of these words into an Email or during a phone call and it is immediatly recorded or saved for review.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    Google, Facebook etc. already monitor our emails and web usage so they can advertise us stuff. Why is the fact that an anonymous government computer somewhere is going to start looking at who we're emailing causing so much distress? I'd rather have the web monitored to crack down on violence & terrorism than to try and sell me things I don't want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Anyone supporting this bill is naive. Such a move reflects on the ineptitude of police and intelligence experts. Because they lack the intellect to spot terror suspects and criminals they have to monitor everyone. The more serious aspect will be "creep" - we have seen terrorism legislation used against hecklers - it will happen with this too. Do not believe political double-speak assurances.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    This is outrageous and is akin to the police being able to turn up and snoop around your home whenever they feel like it. Sure if GCHQ has credible evidence and get a warrant that sounds reasonable but just to give away open access to every communication is something the Stasi, KGB or dictators could only dreamed of. What protection and safeguards is there going to be for this info? I'm shocked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    This governments push for power is never ending; we are controlled by legislation on what we can say, we are watched by more CCTV cameras than any other country, now they want to know everything we do on our computers and all in the name of security,not only is this an attack on our civil liberties, its also an attack on democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    (if this isn't an April Fools' Day story) what happened to the Tories & Lib Dems being the parties of Liberty & Freedom? Another U turn or a case of the u turn will come when this idea is scrapped...???

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Worst April fool's story ever. Does anyone seriously believe that government agencies WOULDN'T use hackers and spyware to gain information,anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Typical Torie underhandedness. Call me cynical but hasn't the 'fuel panic crisis' provided them with the perfect smoke screen for all sorts of bad news announcements- cash for access, pasty tax, granny tax, email snooping, etc all buried under a million gallons of petrol. Just remind me who started the panic.... oh, yes that's right the TORIES!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    Not a job I would like. I find reading emails sent to me bad enough, let alone reading somebody elses. Mind numbing. Next logical stop auto scanning all emails using word recognition so we will all have to be careful we what we say so we are not seen as turban errorists


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