In 2004, the former Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, commenting on the then Labour Government’s proposed ID card scheme, warned us to take care that we do not ‘sleepwalk into a surveillance society’. That warning appears to have particular resonance this week following announcements by the Coalition Government of plans to extend current surveillance legislation so as to allow for the instantaneous tracking of internet usage by individuals within the UK. The plans would reportedly allow GCHQ to access all internet traffic (including information about webmails, web-browsing, internet calls and social networking activities) in real-time and on demand. Whilst the detail of the plans remains decidedly obscure, some media reports suggest that they are directed not only at capturing new technological modes of communication but also at loosening current restrictions on accessing tracking information so that, for example, warrants would not have to be sought in individual cases. The Government, which appears to be facing a huge backlash over the proposals, has indicated that current laws need to be updated so as to capture modern modes of communication which are not (or not adequately) caught by the existing regime, e.g. Skype calls and Facebook messaging. It has also suggested that rights of access under the new legislation would be limited to tracking information (e.g. who sent an email to whom, when and from where) and would not embrace any automatic right of access to the substantive content of the communication. However, critics have been swift to point out the potential threat to civil liberties posed by the plans, not to mention the inevitable risk of function creep. They highlight the dangers of a system which potentially draws, not only criminals and those posing a danger to our society into the snooping net, but potentially all innocent law abiding citizens as well. In an effort to defuse the current controversy, the Deputy Prime Minister has now promised  that open Parliamentary hearings would be held to examine draft clauses of any new bill based on the plans. However, it remains to be seen how the Government will seek to reconcile any draft bill with both the restrictions on the processing of personal data embodied in the existing 1995 Data Protection Directive the right to privacy afforded under Article 8 ECHR. It is of course inevitable that, as technology advances, so too will State surveillance systems need to evolve. However, the critical question is whether those systems can effectively be crafted so as to ensure that the surveillance society is kept within proper bounds.