Home Secretary Theresa May denied today that spooks will monitor emails in real-time under her proposed web-snoop law, which is due to be announced in the Queen's Speech next month.
"There are a lot of myths out there," the cabinet minister told MPs at a select committee hearing at lunchtime on Tuesday.
May also expressed surprise when Lib Dem Julian Huppert told the Home Sec that many ISPs had little knowledge of what her proposals involved on a technical level. She said discussions had taken place with telcos but did not offer up further details.
May told MPs:
The proposal that we have is very simple - to maintain the capability for the security services to access certain data on terrorists, criminals and so on. Given that technology is evolving we need to maintain that capability.
There are new methods of communication and we wish to be able to apply what has been there with previous communications. It is our intention to bring the capability up-to-date. There has been a lot written about what this will do.
It will not be looking into emails in real-time.
Home Affairs select committee chairman Keith Vaz recommended that another session be scheduled to allow the Home Secretary to explain the proposals in more detail.
She agreed, but added "you might want to consider how it is held".
Her brief grilling by MPs came after a Sunday Times story leaked information from a senior Home Office source about the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP) - some details of which were published by May's department in July 2011.
In effect the Tory-led Coalition is resurrecting New Labour's shelved Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP) and many civil liberties group - like a song stuck on repeat - are again opposing any such plan.
The Home Sec's argument in favour of CCDP to MPs today reflected an opinion piece she penned for The Sun earlier this month in which she pointed out that police and spooks already gathered data from phone records to help solve crime and protect the British public against terrorist attacks.
However, when quizzed about whether encrypted pages from sites including Google, Twitter and Facebook would be compromised by such sniffer technology May seemed less certain.
She gave no answer when Huppert asked if, for example, GCHQ black boxes sitting on ISPs' networks would decrypt such information.
"I don't think it's appropriate for me to say. It's a technical detail and I'm clear what the legislation will say on access," she said. ®