Doesn’t existing statutes already allow for selected monitoring anyway?
Ministers are preparing a major expansion of the government’s powers to monitor the e-mail exchanges and website visits of every person in the UK.
Under legislation expected in next month’s Queen’s Speech, internet companies will be instructed to install hardware enabling GCHQ – the government’s electronic “listening” agency – to examine “on demand” any phone call made, text message and e-mail sent, and website accessed in “real time”, it was reported yesterday.
A previous attempt to introduce a similar law was abandoned by the former Labour government in 2006 in the face of fierce opposition.
The Home Office confirmed that ministers were intending to legislate “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.
“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. …
Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, said: “This is an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran.
“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.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty, said that both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats had resisted the plan when they were in opposition.
“There is an element of whoever you vote for the empire strikes back,” she said. “This is more ambitious than anything that has been done before. It is a pretty drastic step in a democracy.”
Senior Tory backbencher David Davis said the proposals represented an unnecessary extension of the power of the state to “snoop” on its citizens.