Government agency denies tech monitoring plans

News 5 May, 2009

The Government Communciations Headquarters has denied developing technology to monitor all UK phone and internet use.

A Government agency has denied wanting to monitor all internet and phone use in the UK.

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) released a statement on Sunday that contradicts reports over the last few months that the Government plans to monitor all emails, calls and online activity in the UK - although it did concede on not storing the content in a central database.

The statement said: “GCHQ is not developing technology to enable the monitoring of all internet use and phone calls in Britain, or to target everyone in the UK.”

“Similarly, GCHQ has no ambitions, expectations or plans for a database or databases to store centrally all communications data in Britain.”

The statement confirms that monitoring of new technologies such as social networking and VoIP do need to be kept up with but only in cases where national security is threatened, to protect the economy or in the prevention of what is deemed “serious” crime.

However, it was Home Secretary Jacqui Smith who said last week that to monitor communications was an “essential tool” and clearly put the need for this above privacy when she said: "We recognise that there is a delicate balance between privacy and security, but to do nothing is not an option as we would be failing in our duty to protect the public.”

The GCHQ insisted that it “does not target anyone indiscriminately” saying: "All our activities are proportionate to the threats against which we seek to guard and are subject to tests on those grounds by the Commissioners.”

However Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group claimed: “The statement doesn't appear to contradict the idea that 'black boxes' to intercept communications may be installed. It simply says they don't plan to create a massive database nor monitor everyone.”

He added: “But whatever the meaning of their statement, the fact that so much of this has to be taken on trust reinforces the need for greater parliamentary and judicial oversight, which are very weak in the UK compared with most European democracies."