PracticeAccounting FirmsGovernment extends ‘Big Brother’ snooping

Government extends 'Big Brother' snooping

The government is planning a massive extension of the number of public bodies that can snoop on details of telephone calls, email and web traffic - originally only intended for the Inland Revenue and Customs & Excise and other law enforcement agencies.

The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is to be amended so that bodies including district councils, local authorities, and the Department of Health will be able to gain access to web and email data.

This could include information such as the name and address of users, phone numbers called, the source and destination of emails, the identity of web sites visited or mobile phone location data.

Other organisations that could get access to the data include a number of government departments, The Environment Agency, The Food Standards Agency, The Postal Services Commission, and any fire authority.

The powers were previously limited to law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies, the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise.

Ian Brown, director of technology think-tank Foundation for Information Policy Research said: ‘I am appalled at this huge increase in the scope of government snooping. Two years ago, we were deeply concerned that these powers were to be given to the police without any judicial oversight. Now they’re handing them out to a practically endless queue of bureaucrats in Whitehall and Town Halls.’

‘These bodies are going to obtain this personal data on anyone they wish, without any effective way of checking what they’re doing,’ he said.

The powers are due to come into force on 1 August.

A Home Office spokeswoman said the agencies on the list had asked for access to the communications data, and this would be debated in parliament next week.

She said the agencies would only be given access to the information in order to protect national security or to aid in the detection or prevention of crime, and their access would be carefully regulated.

But she would not discuss in detail why each type of authority is on the list.

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