Foreign police forces will be able to obtain details of the British public’s internet use, emails and text messages, it emerged last night.
In a controversial move, MPs were told that officials in Europe and the US will be able to take advantage of the Home Office’s proposed ‘snoopers’ charter’.
The information could be used for pursuing UK citizens for crimes which allegedly took place while they were on holiday or over the internet.
Campaigners are concerned that, once handed over, the hugely sensitive information could be lost.
Tory MP Dominic Raab said: ‘It is deeply troubling that foreign authorities will be able to access all our phone, email, text messages, Skype and web-mail data.
‘The Government has a lousy track record of its own in safeguarding this data. And if Whitehall can’t protect our privacy, what chance when it is shovelled off to Warsaw?’
Home Secretary Theresa May is braced for a battle with civil liberties groups, backbench MPs and some internet companies over the Communications Capabilities Development Programme.
It will force internet service providers to keep the data of every website visit, email, text message and visit to Facebook or Skype for a minimum of 12 months.
Police and other government agencies will not be able to access the content of the emails or messages – but will know who was contacted, when and by what method.
The addresses of website visits – which build up a full picture of a person’s interests – will also be available.
Mrs May says the new regime is vital in the fight against terrorism, paedophiles and organised crime in the UK.
But, in response to a parliamentary question, ministers said police and public authorities overseas would also be free to request access to the mountains of information which will be stored.
British officials will then decide whether the data should be provided.
In theory, every nation is free to lodge a request, although Britain’s long-standing partners in the EU, plus countries such as the US and Canada, are most likely to be successful. Ministers had been keen to stress that, in the UK, there would not be widespread access to the data. Town halls will be banned from obtaining sensitive information.
The legislation on creating the ‘snoopers’ charter’ is expected to have a rocky ride through Parliament.
Currently, police and security officials can access details of internet visits and other communications data only if it is stored by phone companies and internet firms for their own commercial reasons.
Some 25 per cent of data is not currently logged, including visits to social networking sites and some internet phone calls.
Police and security officials insist the new powers are crucial.
In a rare public speech last month, MI5 boss Jonathan Evans said ‘it would be extraordinary and self-defeating if terrorists and criminals were able to adopt new technologies’ and the security agencies were ‘not permitted to keep pace’.
The news of foreign countries being able to access the material was revealed by the Home Office Minister James Brokenshire, in response to a question from Mr Raab.
Last night a Home Office spokesman said: ‘Any request must comply with UK obligations under human rights legislation. The necessity and proportionality of each case must be considered before the authority processes the authorisation or notice.’
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