The police and security services will be able to access records of every UK citizen’s internet use without the need for judicial authorisation, under draft legislation that promises to overhaul Britain’s state surveillance.
Under the proposals, if the police and security services want a warrant to intercept the content of communications, they must receive the authority of both the Home Secretary and a new panel of judicial commissioners.
Agencies and law-enforcement officers would not be able to access the full browsing history of citizens without such warrants but they would be able to access details of visits to parent sites with less stringent authorisation.
The draft legislation proposes that UK communications companies, such as BT, Virgin Media and Sky, store internet records for 12 months, though overseas companies would not be under that obligation.
The bill suggests that British companies will also have a legal duty to help the police and agencies to hack devices to acquire information, providing there is a warrant for “equipment interference” signed by a judge.
Contrary to the fears of some tech companies, encryption will not be banned under the plans, though companies will, as at present, be obliged to take “reasonable” steps to help authorities if required to by the terms of a warrant.
Christian Borggreen, Europe director of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, said: “The bill is a setback for privacy rights and part of a worrisome trend towards more governmental surveillance in Europe while the US is reforming its surveillance practices.”
In “urgent” cases, a judge’s consent could come after the intercept.
Obtaining information about the time, origin and destination of communications would not require judicial authorisation — only the consent of a senior official from within the organisation seeking access.
For MPs’ and Lords’ communications to be intercepted, the prime minister would have to be consulted.
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