Government to build new email and surfing surveillance centre

Big brother invests £25m to monitor your Net activities

A new centre for monitoring email and Internet communications is to be built by NCIS (National Criminal Intelligence Service) at the cost of £25m, the government said Tuesday.

The Sunday Times reports that the new security centre, to be codenamed GTAC (Government Technical Assistance Centre) will be built within MI5's London headquarters and will be up and running at by the end of the year.

A spokeswoman from the Home Office says, however, denies that the centre will be built by MI5 and says that the government is yet to confirm where it will be located. She adds that the new centre will not be used to monitor email but to process suspect mail gathered by NCIS.

The British security service will be given the power to monitor email communications and Web surfing under the new Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Bill. A warrant will be required for monitoring email communications but not for analysing Web traffic.

MI5 already has the power to monitor all voice telephone communications via the Echelon global surveillance network.

Privacy campaigners who have opposed the terms of the RIP Bill since its earliest proposal are outraged that it is finally taking form.

Director of the government think-tank the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) Caspar Bowden comments "The sharp point is that the centre is giving them the power to monitor which sites a person is going to without a warrant. This is one of the more objectionable aspects of the Bill."

The Home Office, which will oversee the building of the centre deny that the centre's powers are invasive and argue that the it will form a vital part of Britain's security infrastructure. A Home Office source is quoted in the Sunday Times saying, "Hardly anyone was using the Internet or mobile phones 15 years ago. Now criminals can communicate with each other by a huge array of devices and channels and can encrypt their messages, putting them beyond the reach of conventional eavesdropping."

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They can see you... Read about how and why in Surveillance, a ZDNet News Special

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