Satellite dishes are seen at GCHQ's outpost at Bude, close to where trans-Atlantic fibre-optic cables come ashore in Cornwall

Smartphone spying allowed under new Government law

Communication companies will be legally obliged to allow the government to spy on the smartphones of criminal suspects under new digital laws being unveiled today.

The Investigatory Powers Bill, which was published today, introduces a number of measures that give intelligence services and the police greater access to the personal digital information of anyone suspected of criminal activities.

It will allow agencies to interfere with electronic equipment in order to obtain data such as communications from a device and can involve remote access to computers to covertly download the contents of a mobile phone during a search.

Although a number of firms already voluntarily assist in these activities, the Bill will make this cooperation mandatory.

A code of practice will be implemented to regulate the use of "more sensitive and intrusive techniques".

David Cameron has called for public support for the new laws in light of criticism from privacy campaigners who are concerned that the powers could be abused by the government.

Home secretary Theresa May has insisted that the security services will not be allowed to access the full browsing histories of web users and said it was "simply wrong" to suggest otherwise.

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.

She likened the new powers to having access to "an itemised phone bill" with only communications websites, illegal websites and certain IP addresses falling under the scope of the plans which would allow greater analysis of the records.

"I am clear we need to update our legislation to ensure it is modern, fit for purpose and can respond to emerging threats as technology advances,” she said.

"There should be no area of cyberspace which is a haven for those who seek to harm us to plot, poison minds and peddle hatred under the radar.

"But I am also clear that the exercise and scope of investigatory powers should be clearly set out and subject to stringent safeguards and robust oversight."

The overall cost to taxpayers of implementing the Bill is estimated to amount to around £247m over the next 10 years, including storage of internet connection records and the new warrant approval regime.

It was also confirmed that the legislation will contain a requirement for internet companies to retain internet connection records for a maximum period of 12 months. The plans do not include any move to ban or restrict encryption, despite warnings that security services face being locked out of some parts of cyber space because of advanced security measures.

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