The Government, under legislation expected in next month's Queen's Speech, is planning to make internet companies install hardware that will enable intelligence agency GCHQ to monitor phone calls, text messages, e-mails and websites.
The Home Office has stated that the move is key to tackling crime and terrorism. A Home Office spokesman said: ‘It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public. We need to take action to maintain the continued availability of communications data as technology changes.’
Jon McLeod, chairman, corporate & public affairs, Weber Shandwick, told PRWeek: ‘The Home Office needs to take care not to strike too authoritarian a tone, especially when the competence of government has been called into question by pasty 'n' pumpsgate. The people will need persuading and reassurance. This sort of thing cannot be taken for granted.'
McLeod added that there was a case for 'making sure there is accountable access to this sort of information where it can be shown to be verifiably in the public interest and in the interests of justice'.
Civil liberties groups have criticised the move, as well as Conservative backbencher and former shadow home secretary David Davis. He said: ‘It’s an unnecessary extension of the ability of the state to snoop on ordinary people.’
O2, which has not been consulted on the proposals, said: ‘We need to see the details of the proposals to understand what this means for us and our customers. Like other comms companies, we are already obliged to provide customer information to the police under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.’
In 2009, Labour tried to introduce a database of the public’s phone calls and emails but eventually dropped the plans following widespread anger.