Government to roll out same snooping tactics as ‘China and Iran’ by getting access to everybody’s emails, texts, and internet browsing

truther April 2, 2012 0

All conversations over the internet and emails could be recorded as the Government plans a massive expansion in surveillance.

The Coalition is reviving Labour’s ill-fated scheme to snoop on all British citizens online – despite the fact that it was opposed by Liberal Democrats and Conservatives while in Opposition.

Internet service providers will be asked to keep records of all emails, messages on social networking sites and conversations over Skype.

The content of the calls or messages will be recorded, but the authorities will have to obtain a court order if they want to listen to or read the content.

However, the police and security services will be able to demand details of who the communication is between and what time it is taking place without a court order.

The plans, which have been confirmed by the Home Office, will allow GCHQ, the Government’s eavesdropping centre, to monitor on demand every phone call, text, email and website accessed in real time.

The ‘snoopers’ charter’ is set to be included in the Queen’s Speech on May 9.

Ministers will argue that the sweeping powers are needed to catch terrorists and serious criminals. But civil liberties campaigners said the measures would see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance that takes place in China and Iran.

Labour tried to introduce a central database to track all phone, text, email and internet use in 2009, but it was ditched after mobile phone operators and internet companies refused to foot the bill.

In 2008, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg attacked the then Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown over the plans. He said: ‘It is this government that has turned the British public into the most spied upon the planet – 1,000 surveillance requests every day, one million innocent people on the DNA database and 5,000 schools now fingerprinting our children.’

Last year Mr Clegg also unveiled the Protection of Freedoms Bill, which pledged to put ‘traditional British freedoms at the heart of the Whitehall agenda’.

‘Listening’ agency: GCHQ, in Cheltenham, where Government surveillance workers will be able to trace who you contact, how often and for how long

In Opposition, the Conservatives also pledged to cut down on intrusion into private lives. The party’s manifesto said that ‘wherever possible, personal data should be controlled by individual citizens’.

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.’ Isabella Sankey, director of policy at pressure group Liberty, said: ‘Whoever is in government the grand snooping ambitions of security agencies don’t change.

'Intrusive': Internet users in Beijing, where strict measures allow the government to monitor and control online communications. Privacy campaigners have compared Britain's new laws to such tactics‘Intrusive’: Internet users in Beijing, where strict measures allow the government to monitor and control online communications. Privacy campaigners have compared Britain’s new laws to such tactics

‘The Coalition agreement explicitly promised to “end unnecessary data retention” and restore our civil liberties.’

David Davis, the former shadow home secretary, said it was ‘an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people’. He told the BBC: ‘It is not focusing on terrorists or on criminals, it is absolutely everybody.

‘Historically governments have been kept out of our private lives. Our freedom and privacy has been protected by using the courts by saying, “If you want to intercept, if you want to look at something, fine, if it is a terrorist or a criminal go and ask a magistrate and you’ll get your approval.” You shouldn’t go beyond that in a decent, civilised society.’

The move is likely to prove explosive within the Coalition, with many libertarian Tories and Liberal Democrat backbenchers poised to oppose the move.

A source close to Mr Clegg said no actual database was planned.

A Home Office spokesman last night insisted the plans would go ahead as soon as Parliamentary time allowed.

‘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,’ he said. ‘We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes.’


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