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 1065.

    David Davis, as usual, is one of the few senior Conservatives who has the balls to say it like it is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1064.

    If only there were some central server which tens of thousands of people connected to daily to 1) send all their messages and 2) collect /everyone's/ messages. And if only all those messages were encrypted using the public key of the intended recipient, so people could only read their own messages. That would sure make it hard to both discover the content of messages and who is sending to whom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1063.

    The Pirate Party was right. It's not about left or right, it's about You vs Them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1062.

    Easy to overload. Just decide using Facebook, Twitter or whatever a date when everyone sends someone else an email, tweet etc containing all those nasty words that the computers are looking for. Total overload immediately, and keep doing it until they change their minds or, better still give us and election to get rid of these jokers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1061.

    People are happy to accept a level security for a level freedom, so make a nation fear terrorism enough and they will capitulate. I can't imagine a hardcore terrorist organisation with the necessary funding will not have sufficient technology and guile to negate this so begs the question how useful it will be - for it's supposed purpose anyway. A slippery slope.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 1060.

    oh come on people are you all that niave?.....The Government have been monitoring email and telephone conversations and correspondence in this country for years. All communications 'carrying' certain keywords are automatically intercepted and relayed to a listening station in Yorkshire.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1059.

    This sounds about 2 steps away from monitoring everything that people think. I am not against the obtaining of such information for national security purposes but how long will it be before it is used to find ou who smoked pot or who hasn't returned a library book?Only acceptable if the people who run it face extremely severe consequences for misuse, who polices the police?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1058.

    you'd have to be pretty wrong in the head to want to read peoples Emails because I am sure most of it is utter rubbish, sick but harmless and certainly of no concequence to anyone else other than the recipient and even they have a choice as we do with junk mail. btw you've all won a million dollars just click on this link, lol

  • rate this

    Comment number 1057.

    If it's vital for the police and other services to get this information then they can use a court order, like they should, and submit themselves to judicial review. Say what you will about the U.S. but at least legislation like this would never even get to the point where it's even put on the table. This is just potentially the single most massive invasion of privacy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1056.


  • rate this

    Comment number 1055.

    One way to screw them up is to include the words 'terrorist attack' in every e-mail you send. If everyone does this, their screening process will collapse under the weight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1054.

    Big Brother state is finally here. There is no excuse to pry on the privacy of law abiding citizens for the incredibly low amount of crime and terrorism that it is used for. Terrorism is so last decade. I remember being in more fear of the IRA in the 80's, yet they didn't tap everyones phone? Terrorist attacks are not a major threat.!!! There is more chance of being hit by a bus!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1053.

    What's next? They already watching you and your dear one making love in the "secret" of your room. You're naked, alone, nothing. And there's nowt you can do. What they legallising it's been done illegally for most of your life. Even while writing here you're under censure. God bless you, whoever you are. Hell's for you f

  • rate this

    Comment number 1052.

    This seems a bit much for an April Fools Joke!
    I think it was last year that the BBC did a Unicorn April Fools or was it the Talking Toaster!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1051.

    994: the thermal properties of pasties are very important, likewise McDonalds Applepies !
    Time for rain I should think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1050.

    Feasible? Certainly. Mobile texts = stored for 3y already, and a search bot can look across them for patterns - all msgs have similar patterns once you examine a population of them. 'Grey' transactions can already be seen, but cannot be used as the Start of an investigation (it'd clog the courts if they were). This wd change if it became cost effective, as Porter's 5 forces model predicts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1049.


    The problem is - who are they? what are their political views and motivations? And what are their fears? The monitoring of emails allows anticipation of action. Anticipation of action enables counter-action. Counter-action can be used to serve control and control will always give govenments the ability to silence views they don't like, not just those that are illegal. Wake up man.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1048.

    Please Please think before you write nothing to hide so nothing to fear, it is so lame... I almost want to say why even bother to comment if that is all you have to say, but at the moment we have a free speech rule, is this what you say when the speed camara gets you doing 31 in a 30 and you have £60+ fine to pay????

  • rate this

    Comment number 1047.

    People don't believe they are in an endless war against the ruling classes. They are duped by media and smooth-talking politicians trained by PR companies bound to these ruling class leaches who only make money by exploiting the masses, the dough they mould. Any protest and they will come down on you like a ton of bricks. Ask any Cuban. They can't even a bank account in free UK cos of the US.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1046.

    172. Ian
    Why do we trust Google, Facebook and the News of the World so much but not our elected government.
    because, unlike our elected government, G, FB and NOTW don't use my hard-earned taxes to fiddle their expenses, flip their homes or buy porn for their husbands! GEDDIT?


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