Britain unveiled plans for sweeping new surveillance powers on Wednesday, including the ability to find out which websites people visit, measures ministers say are vital to keep the country safe but which critics say are an assault on privacy.
Across the western world, debate about how to protect civil rights while helping agencies operate in the digital age has raged since former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of mass surveillance by British and U.S spies in 2013.
The draft British bill, watered down from an earlier version dubbed a "snoopers' charter" by critics who prevented it reaching parliament, was unprecedented in detailing what spies could do and how they would be monitored, said Home Secretary Theresa May.
"It will provide the strongest safeguards and world-leading oversight arrangements," May told parliament. "And it will give the men and women of our security and intelligence agencies and our law enforcement agencies ... the powers they need to protect our country."
May said many of the new bill's measures merely updated existing powers or spelled them out. However, the new proposals planned would require communication service providers to retain customers' data including their internet use for a year.
Police and spies access to this would be limited to "internet connection records" -- which websites people had visited but not the particular pages -- and not their full web brows