Police have lobbied the Government for the power to view the internet browsing history of every computer user in Britain ahead of the publication of legislation on regulating surveillance powers.
Senior officers want to revive the measures similar to those contained in the so-called Snooper’s Charter which would force telecommunications companies to retain for 12 months data that would disclose websites visited by customers.
Police said they need the powers to because the scale of activity carried out online meant traditional methods of surveillance and investigation were becoming more limited.
Richard Berry, the National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman for data communications refused to comment on any specifics of the forthcoming legislation but told The Times the police were not looking for anything beyond what they could already access through telephone records.
Mr Berry,said: “We want to police by consent, and we want to ensure that privacy safeguards are in place.
“But we need to balance this with the needs of the vulnerable and the victims.”
Explaining the powers police want, Mr Berry said: “We essentially need the ‘who, where, when and what’ of any communication - who initiated it, where were they and when did it happened. And a little bit of the ‘what’, were they on Facebook, or a banking site, or an illegal child-abuse image-sharing website?
“Five years ago (a suspect) could have physically walked into a bank and carried out a transaction. We could have put a surveillance team on that but now, most of it is done online. We just want to know about the visit.”
He accepted it would be “far too intrusive” for officers to be able to access content of internet searches and social media messaging without additional safeguards such as the requirement for a judicial warrant.
The shelved Communications Data Bill - labelled a ‘’snooper’s charter’’ by critics - would have required companies to retain phone and email data to include records of browsing activity, social media use and internet gaming, among other things.
It was blocked by the Liberal Democrats due to privacy concerns during the coalition government but the forthcoming Investigatory Powers Bill could revive the measures.
Tory MP David Davis told The Times: “It’s extraordinary they’re asking for this again, they are overreaching and there is no proven need to retain such data for a year.”