Theresa May sets out plans to monitor internet use in the UK


Home Secretary Theresa May: "On occasions this is quite simply a matter of life and death"

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Details of internet use in the UK will have to be stored for a year to allow police and intelligence services to access it, under government plans.

Records will include people's activity on social network sites, webmail, internet phone calls and online gaming.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the change was needed to keep up with how criminals were using new technology.

But senior Tory David Davis said it was "incredibly intrusive" and would only "catch the innocent and incompetent".

The Communications Data Bill has been published in draft form - but the government faces a battle to get it through Parliament intact, with Lib Dem MPs and Conservatives such as Mr Davis calling for it to be watered down or abandoned altogether.

Restrictions are likely to be placed on the types of phone and internet data local councils can access in an effort to win over critics, but the proposals have still been branded a "snooper's charter" by civil liberties campaigners.

Rachel Robinson, policy officer for Liberty, said: "It's good that local councils won't be able to watch the entire population but even law enforcement should be targeting suspects - not all citizens.

"Just like the internet, any private home can be a crime scene, but should we install hidden cameras and microphones in every bedroom in the land?"

'Stopping terrorists'

Under current legislation, communications companies must keep phone records and information about messages sent via their own email services for 12 months.

Key points

  • The Bill extends the range of data telecoms firms will have to store for up to 12 months
  • It will include for the first time details of messages sent on social media, webmail, voice calls over the internet and gaming in addition to emails and phone calls
  • The data includes the time, duration, originator and recipient of a communication and the location of the device from which it is made
  • It does not include the content of messages - what is being said. Officers will need a warrant to see that
  • But they will not need the permission of a judge to see details of the time and place of messages provided they are investigating a crime or protecting national security
  • Four bodies will have access to data: Police, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the intelligence agencies and HM Revenue and Customs
  • Local authorities will face restrictions on the kinds of data they will be able to access

The new proposals would require UK communications companies to keep details of a much wider range of data, also including websites visited, although pages within sites would not be.

Mrs May told BBC Breakfast: "It's not about the content, it's not about reading people's emails or listening to their telephone calls.

"This is purely about the who, when and where made these communications and it's about ensuring we catch criminals and stop terrorists."

The police and security services are concerned that criminals and terrorists are increasingly evading detection by using social media and online gaming sites to communicate with each other. HM Revenue and Customs will also be able to access data under the proposed new rules.

Officers would still need to obtain a warrant to gain access to the content of the online communication.

But the government would be able to request any service provider to keep data about internet usage, although initially it will involve about a dozen firms including BT, Virgin and Sky.

Peter Davies, head of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, said his unit received 1,500 referrals a month from people concerned that children were being abused but investigators were being "stymied" by not being able to access the communications data they needed to see.

The Home Office estimates its plans for wider collection of data will cost £1.8bn over the next 10 years - but claims it will save up to £6.2bn over the same period through more efficient investigations and greater criminal asset seizures.

'Total war'

The previous, Labour, government was forced to abandon plans to store every citizen's internet data on a single, giant database following protests - and Mrs May says she has no plan to resurrect this idea.

Start Quote

In the first instance, it is understood this could involve more than a dozen of the UK's biggest communications companies including BT, Virgin and Sky”

End Quote

The proposals will be subject to scrutiny by a joint parliamentary committee before the effort to bring the measures through Parliament and into law begins in earnest.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe, writing in the Times, said having greater powers to access data was essential in waging a "total war on crime" - and he warned that police risked losing the fight against crime unless MPs passed a law enabling them to collect more communications data.

The Met police chief wrote: "Put simply, the police need access to this information to keep up with the criminals who bring so much harm to victims and our society."

Tory backbencher David Davis, a former shadow home secretary who fought a by-election in the last Parliament on the issue of civil liberties, described the proposals as "incredibly intrusive".

He said the ban on local authority officials accessing data was "important but minor".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If they really want to do things like this - and we all accept they use data to catch criminals - get a warrant. Get a judge to sign a warrant, not the guy at the next desk, not somebody else in the same organisation.

"The only people who will avoid this are the actual criminals, because there are ways around this - you use an internet cafe, you hack into somebody's wi-fi, you use what's called proxy servers, and they are just the easy ways."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    MP's have a different view if its their phone calls that are being tampered with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    If they can afford this then there is no deficit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    Looks like my annoy proxy will be serving the public via TOR, cant be doing with invasions of privacy for no real reason. They already have the ablilty to hack someone anyway, this just gives them cart blanche to do whatever they want. My granfather fought for this kind of thing in two wars, I'm not going to tread on his grave even if you are Westminster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.

    May I point the government to article 7 of the EU Charter of Fundamental RIghts Law:

    Article 7
    Respect for private and family life
    Everyone has the right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and communications.

    So, time to scrap the bill guys...

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    It is perhaps just another attempt to divert the great British public's attention away from the real issues that need sorting out (a bit like the pasty tax and fuel crisis). I don't do Facebook or Twitter, have a PAYG mobile, and time now to become a Luddite, chop the Sky Digital and go back to my trusty old Commodore 64. Will they be able to tell I have been playing Chuckie Egg on it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 326.

    And so Freedom and Privacy become the latest victims of collateral damage

  • rate this

    Comment number 325.

    So when I email my friends and say I want to follow Guy Fawkes and blow up Parliament are they going to arrest me? Ooooo...Im scared!

    This from a govt that votes by walking through a division lobby, ayes to the right etc.

    They are technophobes really..They dont have a clue our MPs!

  • rate this

    Comment number 324.

    Well at least I now know that by moving to China will not affect the way I am monitored on the internet....

  • rate this

    Comment number 323.

    Strange thing is that this technology to "Web snoop" is over 15+ years old so don't you think its being used already "covertly" how else, for example, do you think certain media group(s) get HOT news. This will just legitimise what is being done behind close doors. The risk is far g

  • rate this

    Comment number 322.

    Almost every high street has CCTV. The internet is just an electronic high street and should be seen and treated as such.

  • rate this

    Comment number 321.

    247.Sue "If one has nothing criminal to hide, one has nothing to worry about."

    The same utter bullshit we hear repeated every time these issues come up. Well, I might ask, "if I'm not a criminal why spy on me?" Besides, a right to privacy is fundamental. I say again to everyone: take steps to protect yourself and your privacy using the tools that are available to you. Why not do it today?

  • rate this

    Comment number 320.

    Get research companies like Gallup or Mori to ask the people if they want to allow this to go ahead.
    Get MPs to ask their constituents as to what they want instead of what think-tanks or security services want

    Politicians are so arrogant and do as they wish, with complete disregard for the wishes of the electorate they supposedly serve.

    You don't need Leveson to show up a sham democracy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 319.

    I'd like to see their criteria for determing what counts as harmful or suspcious activity. Who here has:
    1) Said something very anti-PC on the internet in jest?
    2) Sworn at other players mid-game?
    3) Stumbled on to something they really shouldn't have stumbled on.
    4) Posted something that makes you sound like a psycho?

    They're going to have a hard time sifting through it all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 318.

    Do we really need a "total war on crime"? If it comes at the expense of civil liberty's I would have to say no.

    The last country started a conflict that employed total war was Nazi Germany.

  • rate this

    Comment number 317.

    Politicians' need for control is perverse. Despite the public clearly being against such measures, every administration relentlessly pushes and pushes for them. Is there no way we can vote for normal people who don't have control / domination issues?

  • rate this

    Comment number 316.

    And while we are all kept under the thumb, the -real- criminals exempt themselves from law and taxation. Who are the real criminals? The global bankers and megacorps that buy power and control our governments. Time to stop watching the puppets and look for the puppateer...

  • rate this

    Comment number 315.

    I just don't like the way the internet has gone. Porn and gambling sites popping up every ten minutes, Facebook and Amazon emailing advertisments "you might be interested in", sites helpfully storing your credit card details. Google street view even photographed my family on their intrusive site.
    Now, your most private conversations are to be recorded by the Government. What a farce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 314.

    Technology changes constantly and we need to be protected from aggressive, criminal and subversive groups and individuals that exploit these changes. These people do not play by the rules. Wooly thinking, as expressed on Newsnight last night - particularly by Rt. Hon Lucas, places the UK citizen at increased risk of losing its main freedom - the freedom to live under the rule of law in a democracy

  • rate this

    Comment number 313.

    As it's the Tories,the authority 'policing' this will be privatised and then our data will be able to be sold to other corporations/criminals/whoever pays enough fees. The next move would be a name change to the'Union of Soviet Tory Kingdoms'
    Maybe the Tories want it so the businesses they own can profit more from targetted selling! Make the rich richer and the poor indentured.

  • rate this

    Comment number 312.

    This is a re-run of the DNA database scandal. I was a victim myself, having been falsly accused of drink driving and after spending nearly every penny I had to hire a lawyer, I was found not guilty. The polcie did not even turn up because it became clear that one of their officer had set me up. However, despite the ECHR court ruling that it was illegal to retain DNA, they still refuse to remove it


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