New Whitehall spy powers spark opposition

11:16 03 April 2012

Moves to give Government snoops the power to hack into phone calls, emails and website visits without needing a warrant have been defended by Home Secretary Theresa May.

The legislation, expected in next month’s Queen’s Speech, will enable GCHQ to access information “on demand” in “real time” without a warrant.

The controversial plans triggered a online backlash this week, with satirical hashtag #telldaveeverything being used by opponents to show opposition to the plan.

The Home Secretary insisted that ordinary people will not be targeted as she sought to quell fears about the plans which have faced fierce criticism from backbench MPs and civil liberties groups.

“The Internet is now part of our daily lives, but new technology can also be abused by criminals, paedophiles and terrorists who want to cover their tracks and keep their communication secret,” she wrote in the Sun.

“Right now, the police and security agencies use information from phone records to solve crime and keep us safe. Looking at who a suspect talks to can lead the police to other criminals. Whole paedophile rings, criminals conspiracies and terrorist plots can then be smashed.”

“We cannot afford to lose this vital law enforcement tool. But currently online communication by criminals can’t always be tracked. That’s why the Government is proposing to help the police stay one step ahead of the criminals.

“There are no plans for any big Government database. No one is going to be looking through ordinary people’s emails or Facebook posts. Only suspected terrorists, paedophiles or serious criminals will be investigated.”

Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy for Liberty said the Coalition was guilty of breaking its own commitment to civil liberties.

“Whoever is in Government the grand snooping ambitions of security agencies don’t change,” she said.

“Proposals to stockpile our web, phone and texting records were shelved by Labour. Now we see plans to recycle this chilling proposal leaking into the press.

“The Coalition agreement explicitly promised to ‘end unnecessary data retention’ and restore our civil liberties. At the very least we need less secret briefing and more public consultation if this promise is to be abandoned.”David Davis, Conservative former shadow home secretary had said the law change is not necessary.

“What is proposed is completely unfettered access to every single communication you make,” he said.

A previous attempt to introduce a similar law was abandoned by the former Labour government in 2006 in the face of fierce opposition from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

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