Financial News

  • 3 April 2012, 8:51

PM Faces Backlash Over Email Snooping Plans

The Prime Minister is facing a growing backbench backlash over plans to expand the Government's powers to monitor the emails, texts and website visits of every person in the UK.

Internet companies will be instructed to install hardware enabling GCHQ - the Government's electronic "listening" agency - to examine "on demand" any phone call made, text message and email sent, and website accessed.

This information could all be accessed without a warrant.

A previous attempt to introduce a similar law was abandoned by the former Labour government in 2006 in the face of fierce opposition from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats as well as civil liberties groups.

Senior MPs from both coalition parties have lined up to condemn the move by ministers to revive the plan.

The Home Office argued that the measure was "vital" to combat terrorism and organised crime and stressed a warrant would be needed in order to access the content of the communications they were monitoring.

"It is not focusing on terrorists or on criminals. It is absolutely everybody," said Conservative former shadow home secretary David Davis.

"Historically, governments have been kept out of our private lives.

"Our freedom and privacy has been protected by using the courts by saying 'If you want to intercept, if you want to look at something, fine, if it is a terrorist or a criminal go and ask a magistrate and you'll get your approval'.

"You shouldn't go beyond that in a decent, civilised society but that is what is being proposed."

Mark Field, a Conservative member of the the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which oversees the work of the intelligence agencies, said he believed that opposition had grown since the last attempt to legislate.

Senior Lib Dem MP Malcolm Bruce has warned that the system could be wide open to abuse.

"The problem we have had in the past is this information has been leaked, lost, stolen," he said .

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti warned that it would undermine the coalition's commitment to human rights if it went ahead with the plan.

"There is an element of whoever you vote for the empire strikes back," she told Sky News' Murnaghan programme.

"This is more ambitious than anything that has been done before. The coalition bound itself together in the language of civil liberties. Do they still mean it?"

However a spokesman for the Home Office said: "We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes.

"Communications data includes time, duration and dialling numbers of a phone call, or an email address.

"It does not include the content of any phone call or email and it is not the intention of Government to make changes to the existing legal basis for the interception of communications."

In a statement, a spokesman for the Information Commissioner said it would "press for the necessary limitations and safeguards to mitigate the impact on citizens' privacy".

The spokesman added: "Ultimately, the decision as to whether to proceed with the project is one which has to be taken by Parliament."