GCHQ and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) have been lobbying behind the scenes for the last year for a massive increase in the level of surveillance of the UK Internet. The government has agreed in principle to spend £12bn installing deep packet inspection equipment into Internet Service Providers around the country, feeding "communications data" about every e-mail, instant message and website visit to a centralised data warehouse that can be accessed by 653 government agencies. However, they have recently backed off from providing new surveillance powers in the forthcoming Communications Data Bill. More details of the GCHQ plan have been revealed today in the Sunday Times.
Should we really be competing with Russia, China and other autocratic nations for the title of most wiretapped country? As Dominic Grieve, Tory shadow home secretary, commented: "Any suggestion of the government using existing powers to intercept communications data without public discussion is going to sound extremely sinister.” Officials may be panicking about the changing nature of communications technology. Instead of hyperventilating they might consider how proportionate is their proposed response of monitoring everyone's associates, movements and information consumption.
You can find out more about UK law on communications surveillance (and how it might be restrained) in a draft of a forthcoming book chapter I recently completed. You can also read about the wider human rights issues in a forthcoming European Journal of Criminology article by myself and Douwe Korff.