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 1045.

    I recall ISP's being legally obligated to record all IP address leases to prevent terrorism. Suddenly that information started being handed over to private companies to prevent piracy. Handed over to police because someone makes a joke on Twitter. etc.

    TOR, Freenet, VPN.

    If you don't know those terms then look them up on Wikipedia, while you still can...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1044.

    We need a revolution urgently!

    That's what Lenin (actually a German General Staff's agent) and his Bolsheviks claimed.

    Dozens of millions of murdered/starved to death, etc. people later we should be aware of consequences of such fanatical demands.

    [Not that the French Revolution wasn't bloody&barbaric and eventually didn't devour its own children]

  • rate this

    Comment number 1043.

    It smacks of East Germany's secret police or worse. David Davies should be a front bench spokesman not be a back bencher. Listen to what he said on that video link Yet another nail in the coffin of this dreadful coalition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1042.

    thing is this country has always been like George Orwells nineteen eighty four, most science fiction is written abou thte present in an indirect way. they just kind of manage to make it look less, and hide it, and distract with other stuff, discredit anything they don't like....the brighter people can see this, if the dimmer can't...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1041.

    This is scandalous and MUST be opposed simply because it is the DEMOCRATIC free speech of British people OPPOSING the government that down the centuries has established ALL the freedoms we enjoy today. The TERRORISTS will have WON - DEMOCRACY will be DEAD and my caps lock key has stuck!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1040.

    One can always use high level encryption coding, I find it useful from time to time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1039.

    The ever-erosion of personal freedom & ever-expansion of UK state control and monitoring.

    The self-righteous UK moral activists are the worse aspect here, too busy criticising other countries yet ignore their own domain being under the most draconian internal security laws since WW2.

    BTW, its NOT OK to monitor anyone who hasn't committed a crime.

    Moreover, who decides if one is a suspect?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1038.

    "The road to hell - or a police state,which is effectively the same thing - is paved with good intentions?"

    Re 109.

    The answer to your question is in part,that details posted on FB & Google are put there by people who're WILLING to do so,whereas what's being proposed has an element of secrecy about it,which in itself is sinister,& as has been suggested, wasteful of time,money & resources.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1037.

    @1023 Factgasm

    The government are actively seeking to turn us against the UN HR act through the controversy of deporting foreign criminals anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1036.

    To intercept post or tap a phone line the security services need to make their case to a judge and get a warrant granted. I think most reasonable people are OK with that. Why should interception of email or internet traffic be any different?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1035.

    Are we sleepwalking into a fascist dictatorship? Will we soon be powerless as a people to choose our government? Is it now as serious as that ..... as in the late Weimar Republic .... when 'good' people stood by and did nothing until it was too late?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1034.

    2 Minutes ago

    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 :)


    Think again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1033.

    Anybody who thinks you can send anything or access anything on the Internet (or your corporate intranet) without fear of having other people see what you are doing is living in a fools paradise. GCHQ is the least of it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1032.

    I agree with #89 Shane unless you are a willing sheep and have no thoughts of your own. Those that give up freedoms for security deserve neither. Quoted from Ben Franklin. Are we really going to let what the few want us to have control all of us? Nothing to hide nothing to fear is stupid thinking for a free people. We are all just going to sit down and take it just like we always have. cry later..

  • rate this

    Comment number 1031.

    I find this rather ironic considering that 1984 was written by an Englishman.
    Orwell wrote 1984 no less than 64 years ago, and yet in the year 2012 Government power is ballooning in strength, civil and economic liberties are being eroded at a rate faster then ever before.
    This new development really is sad, I liked England. Oh well, good luck from Canada.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1030.

    That sound you hear is George Orwell turning over in his grave.

    Big Brother indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1029.

    All this we have nothing to hide people, its about the government reasoning behind it, do you see your post opened and resealed and sent. Just because technology has made it easier does not give the government the right to read them. For people saying we post on social networks, well that's our choice, hence why e.g. Facebook has private emails for just that, privacy when you want it!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1028.

    If the Tori led government encacts this heinous piece of legislation they will have demonstrated they have as little regard for civil liberties as Tony and his cronies and they must never count on my vote again, they won't get it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1027.

    ''Dollis Hill GPO research station London 1933-75. In 1914, the Post Office (who were also involved with telecommunications at that time) set up a ... by the Department Of Works) was opened by the prime minister J. Ramsay MacDonald. wartime role than the citadel - the components of 'Colossus'''

    Dollis Hill also had Special Government agents that opened the mail! Read Spycatcher by Peter Wright.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1026.

    So, George was right in 1984. Lets hand the power to the pigs, shall we?


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