Government to monitor emails, texts and phone calls

Home Office says it is ‘vital’ in protecting the public from serious crime and terrorism; digital rights organisation calls it ‘very wrong’.

The government will be able to monitor the emails, web use, texts and phone calls of everyone in the UK under new legislation, The Sunday Times has reported.

Broadband providers will have to give the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) - the information intelligence agency - access to the communications data they hold on demand.

A Home Office spokesperson 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. We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes."

According to the Home Office, "communications data" does not include the content of any email or phone call, but covers email addresses that are used and the time, duration and number dialled in terms of phone calls.

Jim Killock, executive director of digital rights campaigners the Open Rights Group, said "of course the security services should be able to get a warrant to monitor genuine suspects," but questioned the extent of the legislation.

"Blanket collection, without suspicion, or powers to compel companies to hand over data on the say so of a police officer would be very wrong," he explained.

The new legislation is expected to be introduced in the Queen's Speech next month, when the Queen outlines the government's priorities for the coming parliamentary year after the official state opening of parliament.

The previous Labour government attempted to introduce similar legislation in 2006, based on a database of phone, text, email and internet use, but it was dropped following fierce opposition from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats - who form the current coalition government - among other groups.

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