The UK government has promised law enforcement agencies new mobile and internet monitoring powers to help combat criminals and terrorists in cyberspace. The plans were revealed by the Queen during a speech on Wednesday and will mainly relate to tracking the activities of specific IP addresses.
The Queen said: "In relation to the problem of matching internet protocol addresses, my Government will bring forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace."
In its briefing report on the Queen's comments the government claims that the new powers are essential to ensuring the country remains protected against the growing cyber threat.
"As the way in which we communicate changes, the data needed by the police is no longer always available," reads the report. "In order to know who has actually sent an email or made a Skype call, the police need to know who used a certain IP address at a given point in time. Without this, if a suspect used the internet to communicate instead of making a phone call, it may not be possible for the police to identify them."
Law enforcement in the UK already has the power to track phone calls and text messages. The exact details of the new powers remain unknown, though the report indicates that law enforcement will have to justify why they need to use them.
The report continues: "Communications data helps to keep the public safe: it is used by the police to investigate crimes, bring offenders to justice and to save lives. This is not about indiscriminately accessing internet data of innocent members of the public."
The government said it is already working with businesses that will be affected by the new powers. The report mentions voice calling and instant messaging service Skype by name, but at the time of publishing the company had not responded to V3's request for comment on this.
The news comes just after the government chose to kill the controversial Communications Data Bill. Commonly called the Snooper's Charter by rights groups, the legislation would have granted law enforcement the power to force internet service providers (ISPs) to store details of everyone's internet use for up to a year.
The Open Rights Group cautiously welcomed the proposed powers, saying that they are a marked improvement on those previously proposed.
The Open Rights Group's Jim Killock said: "This may still go beyond the basic principle of recording data for business purposes, and allowing lawful access to it when necessary, but is a long way from the original proposals for sweeping trawls for data, plus engines to analyse it.
"However, we have not removed the underlying assumption that recording information about everyone's phone and internet communications is necessary to combat terrorism."
The new powers are one of many initiatives from the UK government designed to improve law enforcement's anti-hacker powers. The initiatives come as a part of the UK's wider cyber strategy and include the creation of a new national cybercrime unit later this year.
Metropolitan Police Central e-crime Unit head Charlie McMurdie warned that even with the new powers police will need help from businesses to combat the growing number of cyber attacks targeting industry, during a question and answer session at Infosec in London earlier in the year.
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