Police officers in the UK ask for permission to monitor use of emails, text messages and internet searches once every two minutes, a new report has disclosed.
Fewer than one in 10 requests are turned down by senior officers, although the rate of refusal varies widely.
The extent of the monitoring of private communications emerged as the Government prepares to reintroduce its “snooper’s charter” plans to give the police and security services wider powers in the fight against terrorism and organised crime.
Freedom of Information requests by the campaign organisation Big Brother Watch found that forces made 733,237 requests between 2012 and 2014. A total of 679,073 requests were granted ranted internally and 54,164 were rejected.
The Metropolitan Police made by far the most requests for data, with 177,287 in three years, followed by West Midlands Police (99,444) and Police Scotland (62,075).
However, Scotland Yard saw 32,879 (18 per cent) rejected, while Police Scotland approved all but 1,080 (1.7 per cent) of requests.
Big Brother Watch called for nationwide rules on access to information to be introduced. Renate Samson, its chief executive, said: “Modern policing and the use of technology in investigating crime should be more transparent.
“We are repeatedly told communications data plays a significant role in modern policing, yet the report’s findings pose serious questions about the internal approval process which differs from force to force.
“If greater access to our communications is to be granted, increased transparency and independent judicial approval should be introduced as standard.”
Chief Superintendent Stephen Graham, head of West Midlands Police intelligence department, said: “The application to obtain these details is subject to guidance and strict codes of practice. All police forces are regularly and rigorously inspected by an independent body on the way in which we use this tactic.”