Home Secretary Theresa May confirmed this morning that under existing UK laws her department receives half a million requests to intercept communications data in the country every year. Later today, the Home Office will unveil its plans to greatly increase the amount of internet communications information kept on file in the UK, which will grant the police, spooks and the taxman - among others - the power to access such comms information.
Those authorities will be able to monitor internet traffic of everyone in Blighty (or whose communications pass through) to see who's contacting whom and when - and all of this can be done without the need for a warrant, according to the upcoming draft bill that the Home Secretary will release later today.
However if the security services or other appropriate parties wish to monitor the actual content of email or other communication over the internet, a warrant from a judge would be required.
The burden of retaining such data will be handed to internet service providers, who will be forced to log every website visit, as well as any access made by its customers to email accounts, Facebook and difficult-to-tap tech like peer-to-peer communications such as Skype for a minimum of 12 months.
ISPs will, according to the Guardian, be handed a "blank cheque" from the Home Office, which has insisted that the cost to the taxpayer will be substantially less than the previous Labour government's abandoned £2bn Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP).
IMP was shelved following protests from privacy advocates as well as Tory and LibDem MPs – then on the opposition benches. Future Prime Minister David Cameron also warned against state surveillance at the time. But apparently times have changed.
May reiterated in a BBC Radio 4 interview on the Today programme this morning that she believes such surveillance is needed to combat terrorists and paedophiles.
The Home Secretary has also attempted to dampen down some of the criticism levelled at her plans from civil liberties groups and even members of her own party, such as Tory backbencher David Davis.
She is expected to say that local councils will be stripped of their current powers to monitor telephone calls as part of those concessions in her effort to push the legislation, which many Lib Dem MPs have opposed in its current form.
NO2ID's general secretary Guy Herbert said that May's proposals – which were included with "clauses" in last month's Queen's Speech – made the Coalition's "promises to 'roll-back the database state' laughable."
He added: "Before talking about expanding these powers, we should establish a simple rule with judges protecting our privacy unless there is good reason to invade it: no surveillance without a warrant."
The country's national telco BT told The Register that the company had not yet worked through the implications of May's plans.
A BT spokesman told us: "We are examining the government’s proposals and will respond to any consultation in due course."
A draft bill for the so-called Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP) will be unveiled by the Home Office around midday. ®