The Home Office, National Crime Agency (NCA) and two unnamed internet providers have been trialling surveillance technology that can log and store people’s search history. If successful, it could be rolled out across the UK. The Investigatory Powers Act 2016 – dubbed the Snooper’s Charter – allows the Home Secretary to make an internet provider keep its records for up to a year, with a judge’s approval.
They can show website histories and how much data users download, but not the exact content.
Privacy International’s advocacy director Edin Omanovic voiced his concern about the trial.
He said: “Make no mistake, as warned, the Investigatory Powers Act gives authorities across the UK some of the most far-reaching and draconian surveillance powers found anywhere in the world.
“When the Bill was proposed we were promised the most transparent surveillance regime in the world.
“Yet here we have a secret experiment where two secret internet companies have reportedly been collecting internet browsing data about individuals’ online activities.
“When the Home Office first made its demands public it was obvious that what it wanted was highly vague
and likely to be technically impractical.
“Five years later, it looks like they’re still trying to bend technical reality around their demands.” Mr Omanovic has called for the Home Office to “come clean, reveal who is involved in this experiment, what exactly they are hoping to achieve and how many innocent internet users’ histories will be swept up by this covert, indiscriminate, mass-surveillance system”.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey described the new powers as draconian.
He said: “The Govern-ment hoovering up huge amounts of data on everyone’s internet use is not only an unacceptable invasion of our privacy, it is also a very ineffective way of tackling crime and terrorism. Yet again, Conservative ministers are trying to seem tough on crime, but failing to do what actually works to prevent crime and keep people safe.
“They are eroding people’s civil liberties with draconian new powers instead of giving our police and security services the resources they need to do their jobs properly and responsibly.”
He added: “Liberal Democrats are fighting to build a free society where every person’s rights and liberties are protected.
“That’s why we opposed the Snooper’s Charter from the start and are calling on the Government to stop this bulk collection of people’s internet records now.”
The Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office said it was carrying out regular reviews to “ensure the data types collected remain necessary and proportionate”.
It said once the trial had been assessed fully, a decision would be made on whether the system could be rolled out nationally.
An NCA spokesman said: “We are supporting the Home Office-sponsored trial of Internet Connection Record capability to determine the technical, operational, legal and policy considerations associated with delivery of this capability.”