Email and web use 'to be monitored' under new law
The government will be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK under new legislation set to be announced soon.
Internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ access to communications on demand, in real time.
The Home Office says the move is key to tackling crime and terrorism, but civil liberties groups have criticised it.
Tory MP David Davis called it "an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people".
Attempts by the last Labour government 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.
But it would enable intelligence officers to identify who an individual or group is in contact with, how often and for how long. They would also be able to see which websites someone had visited. 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 Conservative MP and former shadow home secretary David Davis said it would make it easier for the government "to eavesdrop on vast numbers of people".
"What this is talking about doing is not focusing on terrorists or criminals, it's absolutely everybody's emails, phone calls, web access..." he told the BBC.
"All that's got to be recorded for two years and the government will be able to get at it with no by your leave from anybody."
He said that until now anyone wishing to monitor communications had been required to gain permission from a magistrate.
"You shouldn't go beyond that in a decent civilised society, but that's what's being proposed."
'Attack on privacy'
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.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, added: "This is more ambitious than anything that has been done before. It is a pretty drastic step in a democracy."
The Internet Service Providers Association said any change in the law must be "proportionate, respect freedom of expression and the privacy of users".
The Sunday Times quoted an industry official who warned it would be "expensive, intrusive [and] a nightmare to run legally".
Even if the move is announced in the Queen's Speech, any new law would still have to make it through Parliament, potentially in the face of opposition in both the Commons and the Lords.
The previous Labour government attempted to introduce a central, government-run database of everyone's phone calls and emails, but eventually dropped the bid after widespread anger.
The then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith did pursue efforts similar to those being revisited now, but the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats continued to voice their concerns.
The shadow home secretary at the time, Chris Grayling, said the government had "built a culture of surveillance which goes far beyond counter terrorism and serious crime".
Chris Huhne, then the Lib Dem home affairs spokesman, said any legislation requiring communications providers to keep records of contact would need "strong safeguards on access", and "a careful balance" would have to be struck "between investigative powers and the right to privacy".
This post was modified from its original form on 01 Apr, 12:01
I understand The Patriot Act in the US in terms of watching suspicious activity, etc and I understand that this can cross over into the internet as terrorists are all over it. It's creepy to people like us knowing what we research is being read as well as our comments. I'm on the fence with this one.
Diane, I am watching this very closely I understand that any context of emails cannot be seen however who sent the email and who the email was sent to will be seen, thiis in my opinion is without doubt a breach of Article 8 of the Europeand Rights Rights of Privacyand maybe seen as Stalking,
as you know a few weeks ago I threaded reports inrelation of Stalking called Stalking to be made specific criminal offence - Cameron further to this what needs to looked at is there concern in relation to Freedom of Expression under Article 10 of the European Human Rights which includes Freedom of speech that we enjoy so much,
so I will be keeping a very close watch on this story as it unfolds to see where the UK Government is coming from on this matter.
Ray, do keep us informed as this is something that is going to have far reaching affect and the U.S. and all other countries will be affected, too. I believe I heard that they are trying to get something like this going in the U.S. Will investigate this further.
Is online monitoring necessary?
Radio 4 Interview Anthony Glees and Daivd Davis debate H
Civil liberties groups have criticised plans for the government to be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK.
Internet firms will be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ access to communications in real time under new legislation set to be announced soon.
Former shadow home secretary David Davis told the Today programme's Evan Davis that the extension of monitoring powers is unnecessary and will be resented by citizens.
New legislation would make existing privacy issues "60 million times worse", he said.
Mr Davis said the idea that "this needs to be done because it can be done... has been the attitude of many securicrats across the ages".
But Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, disagreed.
"We have to understand that there are some very dangerous people out there who do communicate with each other."
"If it can prevent terrorism we should certainly do it."
3 April 2012 Last updated at 11:10
Email and web monitoring laws 'to be brought in soon'
The Home Office says new laws to allow the monitoring of all emails, texts and web use in the UK will be brought in "as soon as parliamentary time allows". The statement comes despite widespread criticism of plans to allow GCHQ "real time" access to communications data.
In a further sign of a determination to push on with the plan, Home Secretary Theresa May said "ordinary people" would have nothing to fear.
But "criminals, paedophiles and terrorists" would, she told the Sun.
She said the idea was to update legislation to stop them being able to cover their tracks and "keep their communication secret".
"There are no plans for any big government database... only suspected terrorists, paedophiles or serious criminals will be investigated," she wrote in the newspaper.
MPs from all sides of the House of Commons have warned against the plan to force internet service providers to install hardware tracking telephone and website use.
Mrs May said that at the moment phone records are often used to solve crimes - including child murderer Ian Huntley, as well as the "gangland thugs who gunned down Rhys Jones", the 11-year-old shot dead in Liverpool.
But the Home Office says changes are needed to ensure that communication using social media and internet phone services such as Skype can also be recorded.
Attempts by the last Labour government to create a giant central database containing all UK web and telephone use were dropped after huge opposition, including from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
'Nation of suspects'
Instead internet service providers have had to keep details of users' web access, email and internet phone calls for 12 months under an EU directive from 2009.
Although the content of the calls themselves is not kept, the sender, recipient, time of communication and geographical location does have to be recorded.
The proposed new law - which may be announced in the Queen's Speech in May - would reportedly allow GCHQ to access that data as it happens, without a warrant, rather than retrospectively.
countered Mrs May's argument in the Sun: "We already have a law which lets the secret services eavesdrop on suspected criminals and terrorists.
"The new law does not focus on terrorists or criminals. It would instead allow civil servants to monitor every innocent, ordinary person in Britain, and all without a warrant.
"If they want to see all this information they should be willing to put their case before a judge or magistrate. This will force them to focus on the real terrorists rather than turning Britain into a nation of suspects."
Information Commissioner Christopher Graham's office has said the case for retaining such data had yet to be made.
A briefing paper on the issue in October 2010, obtained by Conservative MP Dominic Raab, said: "There needs to be some recognition that this additional data will be a honey pot as it will reveal the browsing habits of celebrities, politicians, etc."
This post was modified from its original form on 03 Apr, 4:06
4 April 2012 Last updated at 15:04
David Cameron defends secret courts and web monitoring plans
David Cameron has said "gaps" in national security must be plugged as he defended plans for more secret court hearings and more internet monitoring. It follows concerns raised by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and others about civil liberties implications.
Mr Clegg said allowing ministers, not judges, to order court proceedings to be held in secret went too far.
The prime minister said there was still time "to deal with everybody's concerns" before firming up the plans.
Proposals have been put forward to allow sensitive intelligence information to be heard in secret by a judge and "special advocates" in civil cases brought against the government.
It follows a case last year in which the government eventually settled out of court with 16 former Guantanamo Bay detainees, after the Supreme Court ruled it could not go to "closed material procedures" (allow secret evidence) in civil cases.
The deal ended the men's damages claim for which they were demanding to see secret documents detailing their detention and ill-treatment by US forces in the wake of 9/11. The proposed expansion of the use of secret hearings to civil courts and inquests is intended to ensure the government can contest such cases in the future, rather than settling them to avoid sensitive information being revealed in open court.
BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera said there was no doubt that the changes were also being pushed by the intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 - partly due to concerns in the US about shared intelligence being revealed.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke told the BBC: "The Americans have got nervous that we are going to start revealing some of their information and they have started cutting back, I am assured, on what they disclose."
But Mr Clegg has reportedly told the prime minister, ministers and security chiefs on the National Security Council that, without changes to the current proposals, his party would not back the legislation.
The Daily Mail reported that Mr Clegg believes it must be a judge, not ministers, who get the final say on when the powers to hold a secret hearing should be used, and argues that powers should not apply to coroners' courts.
It follows a separate row over plans to increase monitoring of phone calls, web and email use, criticised by some, including Conservative backbenchers, as "an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people".
In questions after a London speech on Wednesday, Mr Cameron said it was his job as prime minister to "make sure that we do everything that is necessary to keep our country safe" from serious crime and terrorist threats.
He said he believed there were "significant gaps in our defences", due to technological changes such as people making phone calls using the internet and because it sometimes was not possible to use intelligence material in court cases.
This post was modified from its original form on 04 Apr, 12:41
Difficult decisions needed to be made and it was important that the "government makes progress on these vital agendas" - but it would be done in a "moderate, calm and reasonable manner".
He stressed there had already been "huge engagement" with the legal profession and civil liberties groups and added: "We are not at the end of that process yet... these are issues that we need to deal with. There is still time [before the Queen's Speech] to deal with everybody's concerns."
Closed hearings involving special advocates are already used in a number of cases, such as deportations on national security grounds and challenges to counter-terrorism control orders. But when the government tried to use it in the damages claim brought by former Guantanamo Bay detainees, the Supreme Court said it had no power to do so in civil claims for damages.
Wrangling between ministers on highly sensitive aspects of policy is now commonplace.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - keen to flag up his party's claim to be guardians of civil liberties - saw his doubts about extending the use of so-called secret trials leaked overnight.
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke argues, publicly and on air, that judges will have the last word on whether civil proceedings - where secret intelligence material needs to be protected - will take place behind locked doors.
And there will be no ministerial attempt to impose secrecy unless national security is at issue.
However, Mr Clarke suggests the judge's role will be comparable to judicial review: in other words reviewing the process, not second guessing the decision itself.
That is a potential stumbling block.
And will inquests be included? There's much wrangling still to come, and thanks to the goldfish bowl politics of coalition, we'll see it unfold in the run-up to important local elections in May.
UK web surveillance plans 'spectacularly mishandled'
The Home Office has said laws allowing the monitoring all emails, texts and web use in the UK will be brought in "as soon as parliamentary time allows".
Home Secretary Theresa May says "ordinary people" will have nothing to fear- but there is opposition to the idea from all sides of the House of Commons.
Labour leader Ed Miliband said the plans to monitor communications data were unclear, and were being "spectacularly mishandled" by the government.
8 April 2012 Last updated at 12:09
Tim Farron says Lib Dems would 'kill' web monitoring plans
The Liberal Democrats would "kill" plans for more monitoring of emails and internet use if they were not watered down, the party's president has said.
Tim Farron told BBC 1's Andrew Marr Show he was prepared to look at draft legislation when it is published but would not back "authoritarian" laws.
The plans would allow government listening post GCHQ to monitor internet traffic in real time.
The Home Office has said the move is key to tackling crime and terrorism.
Under the proposed Bill, internet firms would be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ real-time access to communications on demand.
Although intelligence officers would not be able to access the content of emails, calls or messages without a warrant, it would allow them to identify who an individual was in contact with, how often and for how long.
They would also be able to see which websites someone had visited.
The government has faced criticism over the plans, announced last week.
Some senior Conservatives joined Lib Dems and civil rights campaigners to warn the proposals would cause an intrusion into freedom and privacy.
Mr Farron told the BBC: "I am prepared to recognise that there is obviously a need in modern society with new technology to have a look at what needs to be given to the security services, but only if it is absolutely clear there is no universal access.
Free society 'threat'
"But we are prepared to kill [the plans], be absolutely clear about that, if it comes down to it.
"If we think this is a threat to a free and liberal society then there would be no question of unpicking them or compromising, this just simply must not happen."
The Lib Dem president said he would be "surprised" if the Bill ended up looking "anything like the press reports we have had this week".
He said he felt that a government that includes Liberal Democrats "should ensure that Britain ends up a more liberal place, not less".
Attempts by the last Labour government to bring in monitoring of internet communications failed after opposition from MPs, including Conservatives.
Ray, excellent. Thank goodness for this stand on the issue. Yes, we need some regulations, but certainly not to the degree that is proposed. We are still free people and so there is a fine line between where our freedoms allow us to be and the restrictions they want to impose and whether the freedoms are protected.
10 April 2012 Last updated at 10:35
Lib Dems were aware of email monitoring plans, says Cameron
David Cameron has stressed that senior Lib Dems were "round the table" when plans for powers to monitor internet communication were drawn up.
Lib Dem president Tim Farron has said his party would "kill" the plans, if they were a "threat to a free and liberal society".
But, on a flight to Japan, the PM urged critics to wait to see the proposals.
He said "people from impeccable civil libertarian backgrounds", including Nick Clegg, had looked at the plans.
Mr Cameron was asked about the issue by reporters on a flight at the start of a week-long visit to East and South East Asia, following much criticism of proposals to increase powers to monitor emails and internet communications.
The full proposals, which the Home Office says are aimed at tackling crime and terrorism, have not yet been published. But it is thought that internet firms would be required to give intelligence agency GCHQ "real-time" access to emails, calls and messages without a warrant.
They would not be able to see the content of the messages - but would be able to identify who someone was in contact with, how often and for how long, and which websites they had visited.
Reports of the proposals have prompted much criticism from civil liberties groups, as well as some MPs. On Sunday Mr Farron said the Lib Dems were "prepared to kill" the plans "if it comes down to it".
Separately Lib Dem leader and deputy PM Nick Clegg has reportedly written to the National Security Council to say his party will not support plans to extend powers to hear evidence in secret to civil cases unless some changes are made.
But Mr Cameron told reporters: "I think everyone needs to be patient, they need to see what is proposed, both in terms of this court issue and in terms of telephone calls and emails."
He said "no one is talking about changing the rules and snooping into the content of somebody's telephone calls or emails" and a warrant would still be needed, signed by the home secretary.
"All we're talking about here is making sure we're keeping up with technology. We have always been able to see who people are contacting through phone calls. It used to be the case that the communications data of 90% of calls could be accessed but that's not the case with Skype and other new technologies.
"I think it's important that people see the detail and hear the arguments. You've got to remember that this was a National Security Council where, sitting round the table, was Chris Huhne (former Lib Dem energy secretary) , Nick Clegg, Ken Clarke (Conservative Justice Secretary) - people from impeccable civil libertarian backgrounds.
"I think when people see the detail they will understand this is a very sensible way of keeping up with technology and not a snoopers' charter."
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke told the BBC last week: "The hoo-ha at the moment is based on rather alarming descriptions of what we are supposed to be doing."
He said while records of all phone calls could currently be kept and can be accessed, technology had moved on: "What's proposed is the rules that no-one was complaining about when it was telephone calls, should now be extended to others with the same safeguards."
Mr Farron told the BBC he would be surprised if the final plans looked "anything like the press reports we have had".
But Nick Pickles, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, has called the move "an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran".