It has emerged that under the newly introduced RIP Act, police will be given powers to routinely monitor the movements of mobile phone users with a minimum of accountability.
Civil liberties advocates are outraged at the implications for law abiding citizens.
New legislation under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (RIP) Act will negate the need for a warrant issued by the Home Secretary to intercept and read electronic communications. As of 5 October, when the Act becomes law, the Home Secretary can be bypassed by requesting a warrant from a police superintendent.
The superintendent will then have the power to order the use of positioning technology to locate an individual using his/her mobile phone as a tracking device.
The next generation of European phone technology GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) will have position capabilities as standard.
Similar capabilities are to be phased into existing American mobile phone standards in accordance with recent legislation pushed through congress by the FCC.
This technology is accepted as an important tool for the emergency services as well as companies wishing to make the most of mobile Internet through location-based services.
"Anyone using the new phones will be able to be tracked with pinpoint accuracy at the click of a mouse, for very broad purposes. It's like putting an electronic tag on most of the population," says Caspar Bowden of government policy think-tank the Foundation for Information Policy Research.
The Home Office dismisses privacy concerns as overreaction and says the technology is merely an extension of current surveillance powers.
"The whole point of RIP is to update surveillance," says a spokeswoman. "If you haven't broken the law then you've nothing to fear."
Surveillance through RIP will be overseen by MI5's new Government Technical Assistance Centre (GTAC).
Although the government has agreed to involve industry in the deployment of surveillance equipment to ISPs, it says there will be no such cooperation in the activities of GTAC.
"We have no plans to involve civil liberty groups or industry in the management of the unit," says a spokeswoman. "The work they do is governed by the same safeguards as governs the Act itself in terms of warrants and so forth."
To civil libertarians and technical experts the situation is unacceptable and impractical.
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