Proposed Home Office bill aims to monitor UK Internet usage

A new plan put forth by Home Secretary Theresa May calls for records of UK Internet usage to be stored for a year and to be accessible to police and intelligence services. Under the Communications Data Bill, a draft of which has been published, details of online activity would be monitored by officers fighting crime and terrorism.

The bill purports to address changes in technology that allow perpetrators of crime to be more sophisticated. For instance, many have forgone conventional methods of communication in favour of using social media and social gaming channels.

"It's not about the content, it's not about reading people's emails or listening to their telephone calls. This is purely about the who, when and where made these communications and it's about ensuring we catch criminals and stop terrorists," May told BBC Breakfast.

Internet and telecommunications providers are currently mandated to keep track of phone records and communication data sent through their services. But under the proposed legislation, the requirement would extend to details about websites visited and social networks accessed, as well as information about VoIP calls and online gambling. Officers and intelligence agents would require warrants to access the contents of the data, but not the time and location of messages sent and received.

This broader data collection strategy would run the Home Office some £1.8 billion over the next decade, but the department claims this would be offset by savings of £6.2 billion through more effective, and efficient, policing.

Unsurprisingly, objections to the proposition, on the grounds that it severely violates privacy, have already begun rolling in.

"The Bill is as expected - an unprecedented and unwarranted attack on our privacy that will see the Government track where we make calls, who we email and what everyone does online. We are all suspects now," said Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties watchdog Big Brother Watch, describing the bill as "the greatest attack on private life seen for generations"

The plans are "incredibly intrusive" and would likely only "catch the innocent and incompetent," said senior Tory David Davis to BBC Radio 4's Today show.

The government has yet to get the bill through Parliament, which could prove difficult in the face of public and political protest.