Britain unveiled plans for sweeping new surveillance powers on Wednesday, including the right to find out which websites people visit, measures ministers say are vital to keep the country safe but which critics denounce as an assault on freedoms.
Across the West, debate about how to protect privacy while helping agencies operate in the digital age has raged since former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of mass surveillance by British and U.S spies in 2013.
Experts say part of the new British bill goes beyond the powers available to security services in the United States.
The draft was watered down from an earlier version dubbed a “snoopers’ charter” by critics who prevented it reaching parliament.
Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May told lawmakers the new document was unprecedented in detailing what spies could do and how they would be monitored.
It will provide the strongest safeguards and world-leading oversight arrangements
“And it will give the men and women of our security and intelligence agencies and our law enforcement agencies … the powers they need to protect our country.”
In a concession to privacy groups, May said there would be jail penalties for anyone abusing the system and a two-tier oversight system with senior judges with veto power reviewing all the 2,800-odd ministerial-approved warrants issued each year to allow suspects’ emails and conversations to be intercepted.