The coalition government has approved a multibillion-pound plan by the intelligence agencies to store details of every online conversation.
The reemerging Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) means internet providers will be forced to install interception equipment in their networks to capture details of who contacts whom, when, where and how via services such as Facebook, Skype, webmail, and online games.
Under the most likely scenario, Deep Packet Inspection technology will be configured by GCHQ to grab such data from passing traffic and store it in vast silos run by communications providers. The same technology will also allow for the content of communications to be intercepted, although this requires a warrant from the Home Secretary.
After the election the coalition said it would "end the storage of internet and e-mail records without good reason". But the Strategic Defence and Security Review shows ministers now believe the massive surveillance programme is necessary.
"We will introduce a programme to preserve the ability of the security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies to obtain communication data and to intercept communications within the appropriate legal framework," the Strategic Defence and Security Review says.
"This programme is required to keep up with changing technology and to maintain capabilities that are vital to the work these agencies do to protect the public."
"We will legislate to put in place the necessary regulations and safeguards to ensure that our response to this technology challenge is compatible with the government’s approach to information storage and civil liberties."
The language endorsing IMP, which was initially estimated to cost £2bn over 10 years, has not changed since the Labour government publicly backed away from it before the election.
The intelligence agencies have always insisted that blanket storage of communications data is required to maintain their capability to investigate crime and terrorism.
Despite the coalition's initial statements about IMP, politicians were never likely to scrap it. But you knew that already. ®