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 1085.

    The BBC used to employ ''spooks'' to vet job applicants. One of the 'Cambridge spy ring' worked there in 1930s. They used to stamp 'safe' people job files with an Xmas tree mark!

    BTW: Not an April fool. Fact!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1084.

    Just look at the name...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1083.

    Was Gareth Williams, the MI6 cryptographer, one of the first victims of this new regime?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1082.

    Only on BBC News do my posts get voted down for suggesting people learn about safe browsing! Keeping your information private isn't very difficult guys, if your ISP can't see what you're doing then they won't have anything worthwhile to pass on to the government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1081.

    This is very nasty stuff. Even, for example, looking at the wrong web page because you are trying to trace who attempted to hack your website, may get you onto a list of suspects. And how hypocritical can you get after they opposed the same thing a few years ago?

    Chakrabarti is showing her Tory bias. She would have been spitting blood at Labour for this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1080.

    April fool's or not, legislation like this was introduced in Canada as bill c30 a little over a month ago. It attests to Steven Harper and his cronies wanting to permanently grab power. And ownership of information is power when put in the hands of someone like Harper.
    So, Britons beware, if Cameron is as full of power lust as the conservatives in Canada, this legislation is surely coming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1079.

    Happy April Fools!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1078.

    Absolutely outrageous proposal.

    We harp on about human rights in other countries like China, and then we look into introducing our own authoritarian measures at home. If we want to lecture the world on how they should do things, we cannot be complicit with our own restrictive measures.

    We are not represented as a people and a country by these sort of schemes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1077.

    It has been alleged by Germany and France that the US spy station F83 located on Menwith Hill in Yorkshire is intercepting private information sent by email, phone etc. from European companies and passing it to their American competitors to gain a commercial advantage. If true this should be a concern to employees of European firms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1076.

    Think about it: absolutely no chance of monitoring everything, so this will only give them the powers to monitor those that are of most interest to them - by that I hope that will be the potentially bad guys, & if it's the case, it's no bad thing.
    For anyone to be randomly monitored will be a minute chance unless GCHQ employs an extra million staff.
    These are the reasons for my ambivilence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1075.

    Unsurprising action from this absurd political waste of space that the English and Welsh elected. The sooner that they find out that they are supposed to do what WE say, the sooner we can tell them that their days are over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1074.

    The Govt knows well that anyone who is a real threat is not going to be found by open email, so what is the real reason for this? They want access to the PUBLICs emails and calls.

    For those who argue 'if you have done no wrong, you have nothing to hide', perhaps you wouldn't mind posting your bank statements online here?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1073.

    ...April Fools?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1072.

    At the risk of breaking godwin's law, didn't hitler start by restricting freedoms because of terrorist. It is a complete assult on civil liberties! Britain was the home of personal liberties(magna carta) so why are we so willing to surrender them? We've always had terrorists and if we let them change our laws, to remove what we're meant to be protecting they've won!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1071.

    Rupert Murdoch's media investigations; what is that all about? At least in that case, the media pried into people's lives so as to make things public, now the same government who was abhorred by these acts wants to become "the Murdoch's" without checks and balances; all in the name of public, what do they call it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1070.

    The behavior of a FRIGHTENED REGIME that knows it is going to get its come uppence.

    Visit plenty of LIBERTARIAN sites (eg. Liberty and American Civil Liberties Association).

  • rate this

    Comment number 1069.

    Preserving the security of the State is the oldest chestnut there is. Read your history - lots of regimes began their repression with what seemed to its citizens at the time the be the best of intentions.

    There were plenty of other excuses trundled out too...... mind you, I don't suppose this lot will ever get the trains to run on time ........

  • rate this

    Comment number 1068.

    This is certainly the most unhinged, hysterical, deranged, florid and pointless HYS ever.

    An exhibition in paranoia and narcissism. If big brother was watching they would be laughing at such insanity.

    I applaud this story for upsetting the feeble minded....they love it when their fantasies are indulged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1067.

    To Ian you may be happy to have and the rest of the Fascists to see what you do on line. Since you are please immediately send all of your personal correspondence to the Government In addition please mark any envelope you mail with the following open me and read who cares.

    Smacks of things done in Germany years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1066.

    This is a totally unacceptable invasion of people's privacy, the last government tried this and failed we can only hope the MP's at Wasteminster throws this out again. One more nail in the coffin of people's freedom.

    Welcome to the new China, where the government controls everything.


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