The government's new surveillance bill plans to give police the power to access the web browsing history of anyone in the UK. Under the proposal, telecoms and internet service providers will be legally required to retain their customers' web browsing history for a period of 12 months that enforcement agencies can then use in their investigations.
The communication firms will be paid to log their customers' emails, internet use and other correspondence so that they can be easily searched by security officials, namely the police, the National Crime Agency, the intelligence agencies and even the HM Revenue and Customs.
The proposal will allow the police to seize details of the website and access specific web addresses visited by anyone. However, they will need to get judicial approval to access the content of the websites. The bill is set to be introduced by Home Secretary Theresa May in the House of Commons on Wednesday (4 November).
"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," May was quoted as saying by The Telegraph.
"Those threats remain considerable and they are evolving. They include not just terrorism from overseas and home-grown in the UK, but also industrial, military and state espionage. They include not just organised criminality, but also the proliferation of once physical crimes online, such as child sexual exploitation. And the technological challenges that that brings. In the face of such threats we have a duty to ensure that the agencies whose job it is to keep us safe have the powers they need to do the job," she said.
David Davis MP, who said the police are trying to revive a power that parliament has already rejected, told The Times: "It's extraordinary they're asking for this again, they are overreaching and there is no proven need to retain such data for a year."
"Prove their case — not just assert that they need it," he added. Britain would be "setting a worrying international precedent" if the proposal under the new bill gets the go ahead, former deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg warned. Also, three-quarters of people who took a survey, which was conducted by YouGov for Big Brother Watch, did not trust that the data would be kept secret. Back in 2012, the Liberal Democrats, which was part of the government coalition, had blocked a similar proposal in the so-called snooper's charter.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron is looking at ways to strengthen the pact with the US to ensure that US-based internet companies hand over data of suspects when requested. News of the proposal comes barely a week after data security breaches were reported in several UK companies, including TalkTalk.