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Phone calls & emails snooped on 500,000 times

Scale of surveillance society revealed in 2008 report

The UK government has been accused of supporting a surveillance society akin to George Orwell's 1984 after new figures revealed that police, councils and intelligence services made more than 500,000 requests to access citizens' communications data in 2008.

Around 1,500 requests to access private emails and telephone records were made every day last year, according to Interception of Communications Commissioner, Paul Kennedy, which means on average one in 78 people were targeted.

While those accessing the data can't see the content of the message, question marks are being raised over the necessity for surveillance at such a scale and opposition parties are claiming it's an abuse of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).

RIPA was introduced in 2000 to provide government officials and investigators with access to communication for the purposes of preventing or detecting crime, preventing disorder, public safety or protecting public health.

But Kennedy's report found that some were granted to council officials investigating trivial offences such as dog fouling.

"It cannot be a justified response to the problems we face in this country that the state is spying on half-a-million people a year," said Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne. "We have sleepwalked into a surveillance state but without adequate safeguards. Having the home secretary in charge of authorisation is like asking the fox to guard the henhouse.

"The government forgets that George Orwell's 1984 was a warning and not a blueprint," he added.

Although slightly down on last year, the total is up more than 40% on two years ago.

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