It has been confirmed that a change in legislation, due to take affect from Wednesday, will allow various government department’s access to the public’s internet and social media search history. The primary aim of the move is to provide the police and the wider security services, with a tool to improve their ability to tackle terrorism and crime in the UK.
However, the information will also be available to 38 official bodies, including local councils, HMRC and the financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority. While these authorities will not be able to view the information without a warrant, once given the agreement to proceed with checks they will be able to view the content of pages reviewed, the content of messages and further searches for websites.
To oversee the usage of the power, an Investigatory Powers Commissioner will be appointed. In line with the change in policy, new fines will be levied to help reduce potential abuse of power. Additionally, councils wishing to take advantage of the process will need a magistrate’s authority, before accessing secure data.
The Conservative MP, David Davis, raised concerns that certain government authorities should not be given access to the power. He said: "It is a serious amount of information. I don't think that the British public want councils to have access to this." He also warned that unless the Home Secretary sought and received full judicial approval for the change in legislation, it was very unlikely that it would be passed by the commons and the lords.
Theresa May had recently confirmed that the government had chosen to distance itself from giving police open access to the public’s full browsing history. It has been proposed that the alternative to this would be for internet providers to log the sites and times of access for these addresses, so that the police and other authorities could request the data, when an investigation called for this to be assessed.
It was expected to be the case that the move was to provide support to the police and the National Crime Agency, but it has since become clear that bodies as wide reaching as the FCA, the Health and Safety Executive and the Department for Work and Pensions could request access.
In support of the revision to current legislation, Mrs May answered questions on the BBC One Andrew Marr Show. She stated that, “As people move into the digital age they no longer always communicate on telephone, they communicate over the internet. So, what we're talking about is just knowing that first step, that who has been contacted [by whom] or did this particular device access WhatsApp at 13.10 or Facebook at 14.05 - it doesn't go beyond that.”
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