British security services will not be allowed to access web users’ full browsing histories under new surveillance powers, Theresa May, the home secretary has insisted.
She said it was “simply wrong” to suggest that new powers in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill to access “internet connection records” would allow the collection of someone’s full web history.
May said it would allow the likes of the police and GCHQ to know if someone has visited a social media website like Facebook, but not which pages they looked at, who they communicated with, or what they said.
May claimed the new powers allow access to “the modern equivalent of an itemised phone bill” and would not allow security services to see whether someone had visited, for example, a medical or news website.
Instead only “communications websites”, illegal websites and certain IP addresses would fall under the scope of the plans.
She said there would be stricter safeguards in place for accessing the records over and above what is in place for current powers and that local authorities would be banned from using them.
In a Commons statement, she said: “Some have characterised this power as law enforcement having access to people’s full web browsing histories.
“Let me be clear, this is simply wrong, an internet connection record is a record of the communications service that a person has used, not a record of every web page they have accessed.
“So if someone has visited a social media website, an internet connection record will only show that they accessed that site, not the particular pages they looked at or who they communicated with or what they said. It is simply the modern equivalent of an itemised phone bill.
“Law enforcement agencies would not be able to make a request for the purpose of determining, for example, whether someone had visited a mental health website, a medical website or even a news website.
“They would only be able to make a request for the purpose of determining whether someone had accessed a communications website, an illegal website or to resolve an IP address where it is necessary and proportionate to do so in the course of a specific investigation.”
May said the new power on record collection would end the “illogical” current position whereby suspects can be tracked on their mobile phones but not on social media or communications apps.
May said the bill also includes provisions for “equipment interference”, meaning communications companies will be legally required to help spies hack into smartphones and computers.
It will allow bulk surveillance of the kind revealed in leaks by former US security contractor Edward Snowden as well as the ability to intercept the contents of online or telephone communication.
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