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Government Reveals 'Web Snooping' Details

What happened?

The government has revealed plans for monitoring what you do and say online. The Communications Data Bill will require ISPs and other communications companies to keep data on users, including what sites they visit, what services they access online, and what kind of emails they send and to whom.

To record emails, ISPs must keep a record of the sender and recipient, and when the message was sent. They are not allowed to read the content of the email. The same is true of messages on social networks, like Facebook, and other online services, such as file upload sites. Your ISP will note which site you visited and when you uploaded a file, but not the content of that file. All data will be held for a year, after which it must be destroyed.

If rolled out as planned, the law will cost £1.8bn over the next decade, although the government believes it will bring between £5bn and £6bn in "benefits". Local authorities won't be able to access the data, which is intended for use by police and intelligence agencies, as well as Revenue and Customs. Access to the data won't require a warrant, but it can only be given via senior police officers to people who need it for investigations, or to build up cases for trial.

Critics have said the plans would put the UK on a par with censorship in countries like China and Iran, but the Government has defended the bill as necessary to battle serious crime and terrorism.

How will it affect you? 

As it's written, the law means ISPs will have to keep track of who you talk to online and what sites you visit. The bill hasn't been passed yet, and critics - inside the coalition and out - have promised to pressure the government into altering the rules before they become law.

If you're unhappy with what you're hearing about the law, email your MP with your concerns and get involved with organizations such as the Open Rights Group (www.openrightsgroup .org), which is working on a plain language version of the bill and leading the campaign against it.

What do we think?

The police and intelligence agencies need to rework existing laws so they can gain access to evidence for their investigations, but this is a heavy-handed approach - not a surprise, given most web-related legislation tends to be blunt, expensive and difficult to implement. The Government clearly hopes to get ISPs onside by offering to pay for everything, but we hope they disagree and push for a better system.

This law is asking for an all-access pass to who we speak to and where we go online, which means that we will be treated, by default, as suspects. All this data will be accessible without a warrant to ISPs and crime-fighting authorities, which makes us nervous about data leaks. Such a treasure trove of personal information will be worth a lot to media companies and criminals.