Britain is set to announce a new sweeping legislation that will allow real-time monitoring of all calls, emails, texts and website visits to tackle crime and terrorism, a move critics say likened the country to China and Iran. Under the planned new law, internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters, access to communications on demand, in real time.
The British Home Office says the move is key to tackling crime and terrorism, but civil liberties groups have criticised it.
Attempts by the last Labour government in 2006 to take similar steps failed after huge opposition, including from the Tories.
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, the BBC reported.
But it would enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long.
In a statement, the Home Office said action was needed to “maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes”.
“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 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”.
“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.
The previous Labour government attempted to introduce a central, government-run database of everyone’s phone calls and emails, but eventually dropped the bid in the face of widespread anger.