The Home Office says the move is key to tackling crime and terrorism. Under the new law, internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) access to the content of emails, calls or messages, on demand and without a warrant.
A spokesman for the Home Office said in a statement: ”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.
“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,” the statement continues.
However, civil liberties groups have criticised the proposed action which would allow intelligence officers to identify who, how long and how often an individual or group is in communication. Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group has likened the move with the online monitoring in other parts of the world, calling it “an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran”.
He went on to question why these measures were not put into place before the Olympics, if the security risk is such a serious one.
“If this was such a serious security issue why has the Home Office not ensured these powers were in place before the Olympics?” he queried.
He also said, “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”
This is not, however, a new proposal. The last Labour government attempted to take steps to introduce a central, government-run database of everyone’s phone calls and emails which failed after huge opposition, including from the Conservatives. Now, under the Con-Dem coalition government (Conversatives and Liberal Democrats) it is likely the move will go ahead and may be announced in the Queen’s speech in May.
[via BBC News]