THE UK Government’s proposals for new surveillance powers are a “breathtaking attack” on the civil liberties of British citizens, according to campaigners.

US whistleblower Edward Snowden went further and warned that the new Bill would make Britain the “most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West”.

In the draft Investigatory Powers Bill put in front of Parliament yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May announced a raft of new measures that she claimed will “keep us safe and fight crime in the digital age”.

Those new powers allow police and security services to access records tracking every UK citizen’s use of the internet without any judicial check.

Other measures include requiring internet service providers to hold on to the browsing history of all their users for a year.

Perhaps most worryingly, the substantial document containing 200 clauses puts in law powers for the “bulk collection” of large volumes of communication content and the metadata – the who, when and where of each communication.

It also makes explicit in the law the powers the security services and police have to hack and bug into computers and phones.

If the Bill becomes law, companies will have a new legal obligation to help police and security services hack into the devices.

There was new, strengthened oversight, including a “double-lock” on ministerial authorisation of intercept warrants, where a panel of seven judicial commissioners would be able to veto the minister’s decision, but there is also space for exemptions allowed in “urgent cases”.

The existing system of three oversight commissioners will be replaced with a senior judge taking the role of the investigatory powers commissioner.

It also formalises the Wilson Doctrine, meaning the prime minister must be consulted in all cases involving interception of MPs’, MSPs’ and MEPs’ communications.

The Bill is a massive overhaul of Britain’s surveillance laws and comes two-and-a-half years after Snowden leaked information about the secret mass surveillance carried out by Britain’s GCHQ.

May said the Bill “represents a significant departure from the proposals of the past”.

“Today we are setting out a modern legal framework which brings together current powers in a clear and comprehensible way,” she said. “A new Bill that provides some of the strongest protections and safeguards anywhere in the democratic world and an approach that sets new standards for openness, transparency and oversight. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, called on MPs to amend the Bill to protect civil liberties.

She said: “After all the talk of climbdowns and safeguards, this long-awaited Bill constitutes a breathtaking attack on the internet security of every man, woman and child in our country. We must now look to Parliament to step in where ministers have failed and strike a better balance between privacy and surveillance.”

There was support for May from the Labour Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham who said it was “neither a snooper’s charter nor a plan for mass surveillance”.

Burnham said: “In a world where the threats we face internationally and domestically are growing, Parliament cannot sit on its hands and leave blindspots where the authorities can’t see.” In a series of tweets Snowden was critical of the Tory plans: “By my read, #SnoopersCharter legitimizes mass surveillance. It is the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West.”

He continued: “#SnoopersCharter does not require individualized judicial authorization in advance of ‘interception’. Such a dragnet is mass surveillance.”

As it deals with national security, most of the Bill applies to Scotland but there is currently some discussion between Westminster and the Scottish Government other whether issues over the investigation of serious crime will require a legislative consent motion. The Home Secretary said she was in touch with the Scottish Government.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said they would “now take time to consider all of the implications, including the issue of the Scottish Parliament’s legislative consent being required for some provisions in the Bill”.

She added: “We recognise the importance of law enforcement agencies and security services being able to obtain the information they require in order to keep our communities safe from harm. However, there must be absolute clarity and guarantees around the extent of these powers and an assurance that the oversight arrangements in place are as robust as possible so that proper checks and balances are strictly adhered to and civil rights are protected.”

The National View