Councils get power to ‘spy’ on your e-mail and net use
Richard Ford, Home Correspondent
Councils and health authorities are to be given the right to access e-mail and internet records under surveillance powers to be introduced next year, the Home Office said yesterday.
Although first proposed to tackle terrorism and serious crime, powers have been extended to cover other criminal activity, public health, threats to public safety and even prevention of self-harm.
The Home Office said that the move would involve internet service providers storing one billion incidents of data each day and storing them for a minimum of 12 months. Under the plans the taxpayer would pay £46 million to internet service providers for holding information, even though some already keep similar records for marketing purposes.
Opposition MPs criticised the plans as a “snoopers’ charter”. Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “Yet again the Government has proved itself unable to resist the temptation to take a power quite properly designed to combat terrorism to snoop on the lives of ordinary people in everyday circumstances.” He added: “It is typical of this Government that it also intends to make the taxpayer pay extra for the privilege.”
Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “Ministers have proven time and time again that they are not to be trusted with sensitive data, but they seem intent on pressing ahead with this snoopers’ charter.
“We will be told it is for use in combating terrorism and organised crime but if the powers are anything to go by, it will soon be used to spy on ordinary people’s kids, pets and bins.”
Details emerged in the government consultation paper published yesterday on plans for implementing an EU directive developed after the 7/7 London bombings. Records of every e-mail, internet session and telephone call made over the internet will be stored for a minimum of 12 months with police, local councils and other organisations able to access the details.
The information will include the date and times of the log-in and log-off from the internet – the “who, when, and where” of communication – but not the contents of calls, messages or lists of websites which had been accessed.
The Home Office consultation paper said: “The directive rightly refers to atrocities in London in making the case for adopting the measures for the retention of communication data across Europe.
“For many years this valuable data has allowed investigators to identify suspects, examine their contacts, establish relationships between conspirators and place them in a specific location.”
When the EU agreement on the deal was first reached, Charles Clarke, then Home Secretary, said it “placed a vital tool against terrorism and serious crime in the hands of law enforcement agencies across Europe”.
But yesterday the Home Office admitted that data would be held for much wider purposes than tackling terrorism and serious crime – and hundreds more organisations would be able to access it.
The emergency services, the Serious Organised Crime Agency, every local council, health authorities, the Post Office, Home Office, Ministry of Defence, Health and Safety Executive, Food Standards Agency and Post Office will have access to the information. Since last October telecoms companies have been required to keep records of phone calls and texts. Law enforcement agencies and other public bodies would appoint an “authorising officer” from within their own workforce who approves requests for data.
The request would be made in an official letter, signed by the “authorising officer”, to a named contact within a telecoms firm or internet service provider who would be required to provide the information. This year Sir Christopher Rose, the Chief Surveillance Commissioner, gave warning of the inexperience of some authorising officers in local councils and government departments.
Some internet service providers voluntarily keep data on internet and e-mail use for marketing and billing purposes.At present organisations seeking the records must approach individual internet service providers but the Home Office wants all data stored on one massive government database.