Despite protests from rights campaigners and many of its own MPs, the British Government is to go ahead with plans to give unprecedented powers to police and intelligence agencies to access details of phone calls and online activity of ordinary people irrespective of whether they are suspected of any unlawful action.
Under the controversial Communications Data Bill, published in draft form on Thursday amid criticism that it amounted to a “snooper’s charter”, security agencies will be able to demand from internet providers details of every phone call, e-mail, text message, and website visit made by their customers.
Currently, communications companies are supposed keep records of only phone calls and emails for 12 months but under the new plans they would be required to store details of a much wider range of data including use of social network sites, webmail, voice calls over the internet, and gaming.
A similar move by the erstwhile Labour government in 2003 was dropped in the face of strong opposition.
Home Secretary Theresa May insisted that the measure was needed to “catch criminals and stop terrorists’’.
“It's not about the content, it's not about reading people's emails or listening to their telephone calls. This is purely about the who, when and where made these communications and it's about ensuring we catch criminals and stop terrorists,” she said.
Metropolitan Police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe claimed that it was essential for police to have greater powers to access data in waging a “total war on crime”.
“Put simply, the police need access to this information to keep up with the criminals who bring so much harm to victims and our society,” he said.
But the move was attacked not only by rights groups but by the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition’s own backbench MPs.
Senior Tory MP David Davis called the proposals “incredibly intrusive”.
More than 160,000 people were reported to have signed an online petition by the campaign group 38 Degrees saying: “Our civil liberties have taken a battering in recent years from politicians of all backgrounds. Now it's time to for us to push back.”