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 1025.

    @985. Matt Marshall : HF radio has offered free worldwide communication for decades, independent of centrally controlled infrastructure. It is ironic that PLT networking equipment connecting households to the "free" Internet is responsible more than any old Soviet jammer for interfering with reception of HF radio.

    I await government requiring us to hand over encryption keys in advance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1024.

    I cant believe how many people are getting worked up over this - its the April fool story!!! go check out the other news websites - theres not a trace of it - calm down :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1023.

    The UN Declaration of Human Rights Article 12 reads: "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."

  • rate this

    Comment number 1022.

    @ 28 ChumboWani

    That was Big Brother. This is Big (Brother) Society. Let's just hope it's an April Fool attempt in very poor taste. And if not, come on in Anonymous; the water's getting hotter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1021.

    @ Ian, we choose to allow corporations an insight into our digital lives. Where as this proposal amounts to the creation of a society within which pervasive and intrusive surveillance may become the norm, rather than the exception. To get a 'perspective' on the effect state sponsored snooping can have on a society you need only look towards China or in a historic sense the former Eastern Bloc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1020.

    so thats why the GCHQ are currently recruiting

  • rate this

    Comment number 1019.

    "Nothing to hide/nothing to fear"
    Wrong - such invasion of privacy (by private sector or government) inevitably begets function creep. Initially "anti-terrorist" data collection morphs into "let's find out if this bloke/lass I don't like is viewing salacious movies/having an affair/writing a critical report" for personal vendettas esp if a snooper has enough cash to buy off our corrupt officials.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1018.

    wake up, this has been happening for years. people get killed in the intrests of national security and sometimes they get it wrong. reading mail, Email, moitoring web activity, looking through you mobile phones camera, not only possible but i am sure is done routinely outside the law. if no one complains then you can send whatever picture you like to anyone, again there is an off button

  • rate this

    Comment number 1017.

    Labour and Tory,Right and Left - its all an illusion.Divide and conquer while creating the illusion that you have a choice.I don't know why they bother "arguing" in the house of commons,they all want the same thing.They might as well join forces and create one big governt that answers to nobody.It should not be about right or left anymore. It should be common sense,democracy putting the people 1st

  • rate this

    Comment number 1016.

    OK, so this is an April Fool's joke - but those who think this would be a good idea, please don't hide behind the "if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear" line......

    ......that phrase comes from the Cold War - it was the motto of the Stasi & you'd have to be an idiot to think they wouldn't have come after you even if you'd done nothing illegal......

  • rate this

    Comment number 1015.

    if it is not an April Foul it is 1984, 32 years late, but true. If we ever get to this state lets blow it out of the universe, I do not want that my kids are "robots" of some thick money hungry a**holes so they buy more of the staff they do not need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1014.

    Who remembers councils using anti-terror law to search whether parents actually lived in a school catchment area? The Birmingham 5 and Stefan Kisko, all sent down for crimes they did not commit. We need to treat all reassurances by 'government' with extreme caution, since they rarely keep to them. They also have no foresight as to what a future politico may bend the law to use it for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1013.

    @59. Gamini Udagepola
    "Good decision, country's security is more important than anything else. Protecting country means protecting all."

    Yes, trust the authorities, they only have one thought - protecting us from evil-doers. They would never compromise our security by leaking our private information to the press for hard cash, for instance.

    There is a thin line between naivety and stupidity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1012.

    I suspect that this a reaction to the killings of Jews that happened in France. Now we are all anti-semitic terrorist 'suspects'. We can thank the US and its decades of political slavery to Israel for this that ignited Islamic hatred for the west's military interference in their world in the interests of Zionism and engendered radical Islamists or Islamic patriots as you choose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1011.

    "I've got nothing to hide so I've nothing to fear"; only the naïve could think all governments throughout time could be trusted not to misuse such powers. This deeply disturbing proposal has, so far as I can see, almost next to no safeguards for even pretty intrusive levels of monitoring. A warrant should be required for *any* monitoring.

    The proposal is illiberal, dangerous and unacceptable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1010.

    @1001 Ziggyboy

    You mean the BBC will close commenting soon... : /

  • rate this

    Comment number 1009.

    Lots of jobs for bureacrats !
    Still, better reading mail than on the dole !

  • rate this

    Comment number 1008.

    696 "The ISP's have no way to monitor the contents of the emails, or even who they were sent to. "

    You're not serious? Email is the equivalent of a postcard - any of the "postmen" handling it can read the whole thing. GMail's business is based on Google placing adverts linked to the content of the email as you read them. Email has always been open - it wasn't designed for privacy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1007.

    969. powermeerkat 6 MINUTES AGO 945.krokodil 903. powermeerkat 8 MINUTES AGO

    Dangers of the internet on the impressionable....

    My favorite is the shape shifting lizard men.

    Some people worry about their emails being read by government spooks.... well if your on HYS don't. They know full well your of no interest or relevance.

    Big Brother is clever enough not to waste their time ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 1006.

    "Are they already opening my post then?

    Welcome to 1984"

    Obviously you don't know what TRAFFIC monitoring is.

    Nobody's going to read you correspondence, unless traffic analysis determines you are in a regular, frequent contact with known terrorists/criminals or their supporters. And they would have prove it, before anybody would authorize them to actually read your e-mails.


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