The police are to be given the power to examine the web-browsing history of everyone in the UK under new plans that will be introduced on Wednesday by Home Secretary Theresa May.
The plans form part of the government’s aim to, effectively, implement the old Communications Data Bill, also known as the “snoopers’ charter”, obliging internet service providers to retain the web browsing history of all customers for 12 months. Under the new law, the police would be able to access specific web addresses – URLs – visited by everyone in the UK.
Computing revealed government plans to effectively reintroduce the snoopers’ charter two weeks ago, after the Conservatives were re-elected in May with the promise of giving the security services even more surveillance powers.
They will, however, need to apply to the courts for approval before wading through people’s web histories, without their knowledge, via orders to people’s ISPs.
May has made it quite clear which side she stands on in the debate between privacy and security.
“I’ve said many times before that it is not possible to debate the balance between privacy and security, including the rights and wrongs of intrusive powers and the oversight arrangements that govern them without also considering the threats that we face as a country,” she told MPs recently.
These threats, she added, included “not just terrorism from overseas and home-grown in the UK, but also industrial, military and state espionage”. In addition, the powers would be used to combat “organised criminality” and “the proliferation of once physical crimes online, such as child sexual exploitation. And the technological challenges that brings”.
She claimed that “the agencies whose job it is to keep us safe have the powers they need to do the job”.
However, David Davis MP, who resigned from the Conservative front bench and his seat in 2008 to fight a by-election on the issue of identity cards and the surveillance state, said that there was “no proven need” for the powers that May was seeking for the police, security services and, potentially, manifold other government agencies, including HMRC.