UK government plans widespread web monitoring

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The British government is planning to give itself the power to monitor phone calls, texts, emails and website visits, in a move that has outraged privacy campaigners.

Under the proposed legislation, internet companies would be required to give GCHQ access to their users' communications in real time, identifying who people are in contact with, the length of their communication, and which websites they're visiting. However, reading the content of messages would require a warrant.

It's been proposed by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition, despite the fact that both parties campaigned heavily against the introduction of a similar law in 2006, leading the idea to be abandoned.

Nick Pickles of Big Brother Watch compared the plans to the surveillance systems currently in use 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 says.

And Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group agrees, saying: "Of course the security services should be able to get a warrant to monitor genuine suspects. But blanket collection, without suspicion, or powers to compel companies to hand over data on the say-so of a police officer would be very wrong."

Meanwhile, internet service providers are deeply concerned about the plans, which would require them to install routing hardware giving access to GCHQ.

"It's expensive, it's intrusive to your customers, it's difficult to see it's going to work and it's going to be a nightmare to run legally," an official told the Sunday Times.

The legislation is expected to be formally announced next month, and to be brought into law by the end of the year.