LONDON (Reuters) - Internet companies will have to store customer usage data for up to a year according to a new bill the British government will present to parliament on Wednesday, local newspapers reported.
The Investigatory Powers Bill, a renewed attempt to give security agencies powers to track online communications, will also tackle criticism from privacy campaigners by including assurances that any access of so-called Internet connection records would need judicial authorisation, the Guardian said.
A debate about how to protect privacy while giving agencies the powers they need in the digital age has raged since former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked details about mass surveillance by British and U.S spies in 2013.
Britain’s security chiefs argue they are facing a capability gap because of technological advances, and say that their work has been severely hampered by Snowden’s disclosures. But rights campaigners say that Snowden’s disclosures showed the authorities were not respecting people’s entitlement to privacy.
A spokeswoman for David Cameron said on Tuesday the prime minister saw the bill as “one of the most important pieces of legislation during this parliament because it goes ... to the heart of the government’s duty to keep the British public safe.”
“The prime minister underlined that this is about maintaining the agencies’ current capabilities, that this is about the powers they need to keep us safe and about increasing public confidence in what they do and the process.”
On Sunday, Interior Minister Theresa May said the new bill was “quite different” from earlier plans to give police greater powers to monitor communications and web activities that opponents dubbed a “snoopers’ charter”.
She said the Investigatory Powers Bill would not include automatic powers to go through people’s browsing history and any “intrusive” actions would be subject of “strong oversight arrangements”.
One sticking point has been who gives that authorisation - the minister or an independent judge.
The Guardian reported that May would try to strengthen the oversight regime by replacing the current system of three commissioners with a single “investigatory powers commissioner” - a senior judge appointed by the prime minister.
The Telegraph newspaper said the bill would also retain ministers’ power to sign off on warrants for “intrusive surveillance” - which may anger civil rights groups.
Reporting by Elizabeth Piper and Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Alan Crosby