The Government is set to announce a new set of laws which will require ISPs like BT, Virgin Media and Sky to give intelligence agency GCHQ access to subscriber’s web activity on demand and in real time.
Thought to be announced during the Queen’s Speech next month, the new laws would see GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) able to identify what websites an individual would visit, who they sent emails to and who they contacted in chat rooms, although GCHQ would not be able to access the content of any communications without a warrant.
The Home Office said: “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.”
Despite assurances from the Home Office that “the use of communications data [would be] compatible with the government’s approach to civil liberties,” news of the laws has drawn criticism from several quarters.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty said: “This is more ambitious than anything that has been done before. It is a pretty drastic step in a democracy,” with Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch calling the move “an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance seen in China and Iran.”
Conservative MP David Davis weighed in, telling the BBC that “what this is talking about doing is not focusing on terrorists or criminals, it’s absolutely everybody’s emails, phone calls, web access… 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.”
The Home Office spokesperson references the UK Government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, a comprehensive plan that outlines the UK Goverment’s defence measures for the 21st Century.
Alongside sections earmarked for Terrorism, the British Army and the Royal Air Force is a section on Cyber Security.
This mentions, among other things, plans of “establishing stronger
alliances with international counterparts, including by working on a UK-US Memorandum of Understanding to enable us to share information and plan and conduct operations jointly.”
So any information obtained under the new laws could be potentially shared with spooks from the Pentagon.
According to The Register, the Home Office has confirmed that the “Communications Capabilities Development Programme [CCDP]” would be included in the Queen’s Speech and that the Goverment plan to “legislate on it as soon as possible.”
The “transformative national cyber security programme” will be funded by £650 million and will be rolled out over the next four years.
The previous New Labour government’s plans for the similar Interception Modernisation Programme [IMP] was said to cost £2 billion of taxpayer money and would be implemented over ten years. The cost of the project was said to be the main reason it was shelved, alongside growing public concern. The Queen will address Parliament on the 9th of May.
UPDATE 09/05/2012: Queen’s Speech includes new online eavesdropping law but promises significant oversight.