The internet activity of everyone in Britain will have to be stored for a year by service providers, under new surveillance law plans.
Communications firms will be legally required to help spies hack into suspects’ smartphones and computers under the plans unveiled yesterday.
Domestic providers will be obliged to assist authorities in “giving effect to equipment interference” under the draft Investigatory Powers Bill.
This capability allows agencies to interfere with electronic equipment in order to obtain data such as communications from a device.
It can involve remote access to computers to covertly download the contents of a mobile phone during a search.
This is not a new power and a number of firms already assist in the activities voluntarily, officials said, but they will be legally obliged to provide assistance in future. All police forces will be permitted to carry out equipment interference under the new regime, with a code of practice to be issued to regulate use of “more sensitive and intrusive techniques”.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the publication of the bill is “a decisive moment”. She said: “Never before has so much information been in the public domain about the activities of our police and security services, as well as the oversight, safeguard and authorisation arrangements which govern them.
“I am clear we need to update our legislation to ensure it is modern, fit for purpose and can respond to emerging threats as technology advances.
“There should be no area of cyberspace which is a haven for those who seek to harm us to plot, poison minds and peddle hatred under the radar.
“But I am also clear that the exercise and scope of investigatory powers should be clearly set out and subject to stringent safeguards.”
Campaign group Privacy International said the bill “will be one of the most important pieces of legislation for a decade to get right for our civil liberties”.
A spokeswoman said: “After years of downplaying and denying the Snowden revelations, the government has finally entered the conversation.”