Britain Seeks Greater Access to Citizens’ Online Activity

The British government plans to make telecommunications firms keep records of customers' Web histories and help spies hack into computers and phones under a new cyber-snooping law unveiled Wednesday.

The draft Investigatory Powers Bill is intended to replace a patchwork of laws, some dating from the Web's infancy, and set the limits of surveillance in the digital age.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the new rules would give security services a "license to operate" in the Internet era, but privacy groups called them a license to snoop.

If approved by Parliament, the bill will let police and spies access Internet connection records -- a list of websites, apps and messaging services someone has visited, though not the individual pages they looked at or the messages they sent.

Communications companies will be required to hold onto the records for up to a year, and police can seek warrants to look at them as part of criminal or terrorism investigations.

May said the data was "simply the modern equivalent of an itemized phone bill."

"It cannot be right that today the police could find an abducted child if the suspects were using mobile phones to coordinate their crime, but if they were using social media or communications apps then they would be out of reach," she said.

Civil liberties groups said the proposed law marked a big expansion of snooping powers.

"Your phone bill 10 or 20 years ago would have had a handful of calls," said Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group. "Now it's your reading record, it's your library card, it's your shopping, it's your social life, it's your health.

"It's such a huge shift we've had in communications -- comparing it with phone records completely underestimates what's in there."

Killock also expressed concern about the bill's suggestion that records of web activity could be stored in...

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