Police and MI5 get power to watch you on the web

Police and intelligence officers are to be handed the power to monitor people’s messages online in what has been described as an “attack on the privacy” of vast numbers of Britons.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, intends to introduce legislation in next month’s Queen’s Speech which would allow law-enforcement agencies to check on citizens using Facebook, Twitter, online gaming forums and the video-chat service Skype.

Regional police forces, MI5 and GCHQ, the Government’s eavesdropping centre, would be given the right to know who speaks to whom “on demand” and in “real time”.

Home Office officials said the new law would keep crime-fighting abreast of developments in instant communications – and that a warrant would still be required to view the content of messages.

But civil liberties groups expressed grave concern at the move. Nick Pickles, director of the Big Brother Watch campaign group, described it as “an unprecedented step that will see Britain adopt the same kind of surveillance as in China and Iran. “This is an absolute attack on privacy online and it is far from clear this will actually improve public safety, while adding significant costs to internet businesses,” he said. David Davis, the former Conservative shadow Home Secretary, said the state was unnecessarily extending its power to “snoop” on its citizens.

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