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Plan to monitor all web use denied
GCHQ - the Government's secret electronic eavesdropping agency - issued a rare public statement to deny it is pressing ahead with plans to monitor all internet use and telephone calls in the UK.
The organisation said that a reported £1 billion "snooping" project at GCHQ's hi-tech complex at Cheltenham was simply intended to enable the organisation keep pace with developments in internet technology.
"GCHQ is not developing technology to enable the monitoring of all internet use and phone calls in Britain, or to target everyone in the UK," the statement said.
"Similarly, GCHQ has no ambitions, expectations or plans for a database or databases to store centrally all communications data in Britain."
It was reported that a Mastering the Internet (MTI) programme would enable GCHQ to "spy at will" on emails, website visits, social networking sessions, and telephone calls made over the internet.
In its statement, GCHQ acknowledged the existence of the MTI project, but denied that it was a covert monitoring programme.
Instead, the agency said that it was intended to ensure that GCHQ kept pace with the latest developments in internet technology - although it gave little concrete idea of what was involved.
"One of our greatest challenges is maintaining our capability in the face of the growth in internet-based communications and voice-over internet telephony. We must reinvest continuously to keep up with the methods that are used by those who threaten the UK and its interests," it said.
"Just as our predecessors at Bletchley Park mastered the use of the first computers, partnering with industry, we need to master the use of internet technologies and skills that will enable us to keep one step ahead of the threats. This is what mastering the internet is about."
The statement stressed that GCHQ operated within a strict legal framework which set out the procedures for ministers to authorise interceptions.