UK agency denies new plan to spy on UK population

The UK's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) has taken the unusual step of issuing a statement to deny it will track all UK internet and online phone use, the BBC reports.

After a job advertised in an IT newspaper raised the alarm, GCHQ insisted it was developing tracking technology but "only acts when it is necessary" and "does not spy at will".

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has now decreed communications service providers should track all e-mails, phone calls and internet use including visits to social network sites, but not their content. She saw this as a compromise, having previously reluctantly abandoned plans for a single government database to track all UK subjects’ communications, claiming it would help to fight terrorism – which is how it got fast-tracked through the European administration, side-stepping the UK’s Parliament.

In the statement, GCHQ said one of its "greatest challenges is maintaining our capability in the face of the growth in internet-based communications and added, "We must reinvest continuously to keep up with the methods that are used by those who threaten the UK and its interests."

On Sunday, the Sunday Times newspaper reported that GCHQ was in fact forging ahead with plans to monitor all communications in Britain, spending £1 billion on a project called Mastering the Internet, which would involved thousands of probes being installed across the internet.

The UK rapporteur, Malcolm Harbour, is currently striving to give governments and network operators the right to block access to internet content and services, by introducing a new language into the Telecoms Package  being debated in the European Parliament today (and voted on there tomorrow).

The Package will shape the telecom industry across the EU and has been widely criticised for putting citizens’ rights and liberties behind those of prescriptive governments (notably the French and British) and large scale commercial interests of content and service providers.

It is something of an achievement to have alarmed both the Left (which is fighting the new language in the European Telecoms Package) and the Right – as in The Sunday Times.