Britain

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NAIRN, Scotland— Britain-Ireland rallied past the United States on Sunday to win the Curtis Cup, ending the Americans’ 16-year domination of the tournament.

The outcome means that for the first time all four major professional and amateur men’s and women’s team trophies are held by Britain, Ireland and Europe.

Britain-Ireland beat the Americans 10 ½ to 9 ½ despite needing to win five of the eight singles matches Sunday. Stephanie Meadow of Northern Ireland scored the critical point by defeating Amy Anderson.

Britain-Ireland and Europe now hold the Curtis Cup, men’s amateur Walker Cup plus the pro Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup titles.

“It is very, very special to have captured golfing history today,” Britain-Ireland captain Tegwen Matthews said. “I had joked and joked to the team about all the pressure they were under to win this week given that it would mean holding all four main team trophies between GB & I and Europe against the States.

“So that was a challenge for me and it’s just fabulous we’ve won because I am just as competitive as my players in wanting to achieve that goal and we have managed to do that.”

This was only the second time the team won in Scotland in the 80-year history of the event.

Britain-Ireland captured the opening three matches — Kelly Tidy beating Austin Ernst 2 and 1, Amy Boulden beating Emily Tubert 3 and 1 and Holly Clyburn beating Erica Popson 3 and 2.

It put Britain-Ireland ahead for the first time in the event by 8 ½ points to 6 ½. While it lost the next two matches — Lisa McCloskey beating Pam Pretswell 4 and 3 and Tiffany Lau beating Bronte Law 2 up — the home team sealed the victory by winning the next two matches.

England’s 16-year old Charley Hull sent her team to 9 ½ points by defeating Lindy Duncan 5 and 3 before Meadow clinched the winning point in defeating Anderson 4 and 2.

No. 4-ranked Leona Maguire of Ireland lost the final singles match 6 and 5 despite a recent run of good form that included a recent eight-shot victory in the Irish U-18 Girls Open Stroke-Play Championship.

“It was certainly not the result I was looking for,” U.S. captain Pat Cornett said. “So I am a little disappointed, but then the result is good for the game and good for the Curtis Cup. Then it just shows how fickle this game can be and I reminded the girls that after all it is just a game.”

Cornett’s leg is in a cast and she will head home to California for an operation on her left ankle. She broke two bones in a golf-cart accident Friday. Her husband, Mike, remains in an Inverness hospital because of cellulitis in his feet.

“It’s now a case of we can’t get out of Dodge City quick enough,” Cornett cracked.

Cornett has yet to decide if she will try to captain the 2016 U.S. team in St. Louis.

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s border control union has set a strike date for May 10 as part of its dispute with the government over retirement ages.

Lucy Moreton, the deputy general secretary of the Immigration Service Union, says workers at major airports such as London’s Heathrow as well as seaports will be affected by the 24-hour strike.

Border controls in Paris and Brussels connected to the Eurostar train service will also be affected.

“It is with deep regret,” Moreton said of the strike.

The union is demanding its employees be exempt from government increases in the retirement age because of the physical nature of their jobs.

The strike by the union, which represents 4,500 border control officers, comes at a time of great tension along U.K. border checkpoints.

Long lines at Heathrow — some visitors have reported waits of more than two hours — have become the subject of national angst, particularly with the country preparing to host the Summer Olympics from July 27-Aug.12.

Britain’s immigration minister Damian Green called the strike “completely unnecessary,” adding that he believes the “public will find it unacceptable” if the strike goes forward.

“The security of the U.K. border is of the utmost importance and we will use tried and tested contingency plans to ensure we minimize any disruption caused by planned union action,” he said.

Printed on Thursday, May 3, 2012 as: British border workers set May 10 strike day after disputes

LONDON — A committee of British lawmakers called Rupert Murdoch unfit to run his global media empire — a finding that reflects just how deeply the phone hacking scandal born of his defunct News of the World has shaken the relationship between the press and politics.

The divisive ruling Tuesday against Murdoch, his son James and three of their executives also exposed the waning influence of the media tycoon, and could jeopardize his control of a major broadcaster.

Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport committee — a panel that scrutinizes the standards of Britain’s press and sports authorities — began an inquiry amid disclosures about widespread tabloid hacking of voice mail, concerns over bribes paid to police for scoops, and politicians who may have overstepped the bounds by cozying up to key players in the Murdoch empire.

Tarring the credentials of both the 81-year-old media mogul and James Murdoch, a former executive chairman of News Corp.’s U.K. newspaper division, the committee’s scathing words on the Murdochs could affect their controlling stake in British Sky Broadcasting.

Britain’s broadcasting regulator Ofcom acknowledged it was studying details of the report, which unanimously agreed that three key News International executives had misled Parliament — a verdict that can see offenders hauled before legislators to make a personal apology.

“We conclude, therefore, that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company,” the report said.

In a message to News International staff, Murdoch said he found the findings “difficult to read” and that he deeply regretted what took place.

“We certainly should have acted more quickly and aggressively to uncover wrongdoing,” he wrote. “There is no easy way around this, but I am proud to say that we have been working hard to put things right.”

Among the 11-member committee, four lawmakers from Britain’s Conservative Party — which Murdoch’s flagship The Sun tabloid now supports — refused to endorse the report. It was supported by one Liberal Democrat and five members of the opposition Labour Party, which Murdoch ditched before Britain’s 2010 national election.

The chairman, a Conservative, did not vote in line with parliamentary convention.

Philip Davies said the conclusion on Murdoch supported by Labour members was “not only over the top, but ludicrous.”
The fallout has jolted Prime Minister David Cameron, who lost his top media adviser over the scandal and is fighting demands to sack a Cabinet minister over the links his office had to some of Murdoch’s key staff.

Cameron may also face new embarrassment if, as expected, Britain’s media ethics inquiry orders him and ex-News of The World editor Rebekah Brooks to disclose scores of text messages they exchanged while she ran the tabloid.

Murdoch closed down the 168-year-old News of the World in July amid a public outcry over intercepted voice mail of celebrities and the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.

Ofcom, which decides if broadcasters in the U.K. are “fit and proper” to hold a license, launched an inquiry last year into BkyB following revelations about phone hacking.

If the regulator were to determine that News Corp. does not meet that test, it could be forced to divest part of its 39 percent stake, depriving it of a controlling interest in the British broadcaster.

British law offers no legal definition of “fit and proper,” meaning that Ofcom must use its judgment in deciding whether executives should be trusted to hold a broadcasting license. Analysts say that likely leaves any Ofcom decision open to legal challenges in the courts.

The committee said the House of Commons would need to decide on the punishment meted out to the three executives accused of misleading it: Colin Myler, an ex-News of The World editor who now works as editor-in-chief at the New York Daily News; Tom Crone, the British tabloid’s longtime lawyer; and Les Hinton, the former executive chairman of News International and the former publisher of The Wall Street Journal.

All three issued statements denying they had misled the committee, or had taken part in any cover-up of phone hacking.

Parliament’s power to fine such offenders or send them to jail lapsed in the 18th century — and a cell underneath Big Ben has long been in disuse. However, offenders can be called to the House of Commons to be publicly admonished, a sanction last used against a non-lawmaker in 1957.

Murdoch has insisted he was unaware that hacking was widespread at the News of The World, blaming staff for keeping him in the dark and failing to inform him about payouts to victims.

The panel agreed that James Murdoch, 39, was badly at fault over the scandal — but they were again divided over the tone of their criticism. Lawmakers said they agreed that phone hacking at the News of The World dated back to at least 2001, and that James Murdoch could have halted the practice as early as 2008 if he had acted correctly.

James Murdoch had displayed a “lack of curiosity ... willful ignorance even,” in failing to demand evidence that would have shown the extent of phone hacking, the report said.

Legislators agreed that both Murdochs must be “prepared to take responsibility” for corporate failures.

“Everybody in the world knows who is responsible for the wrongdoing of News Corp. — Rupert Murdoch. More than any individual alive, he is to blame,” committee member Tom Watson, a Labour lawmaker and among the tycoon’s fiercest critics, told reporters. “It is his company, his culture, his people, his business, his failures, his lies, his crimes.”

Conservative panel members said divisions over Murdoch would undermine the serious findings made on Myler, Crone and Hinton — who worked as a top Murdoch aide on both sides of the Atlantic for decades and resigned from his post as the publisher of The Wall Street Journal amid the hacking scandal.

Legislators said Hinton had misled them over his repeated claim that hacking was not rife at the News of The World, while Myler and Crone had failed to present factual accounts of what they knew. All deny that charge.

Still, some analysts say the report’s savage criticism of the Murdoch empire could have implications in the United States.

Murdoch’s U.S. media empire includes the Fox television network and 20th Century Fox film studio, publisher Harper Collins, Dow Jones Newswires, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post. He also owns British newspapers The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun; the stake in BSkyB; and outlets around the world from broadcaster Sky Italia to Australian cable provider Foxtel.

“A question for Americans is whether his empire and methods will come under scrutiny in this country,” said Louis Ureneck, a journalism professor at Boston University.

News Corp. acknowledged the panel’s report had uncovered some “hard truths,” including that its “response to the wrongdoing was too slow and too defensive, and that some of our employees misled the select committee.”

However, it denounced “the unjustified and highly partisan” attack on Rupert Murdoch — noting objections raised by panel members.

The corporation has been rocked by the scandal, which has claimed the jobs of a string of senior executives and several top British police officers.

Lawmakers lambasted Britain’s top prosecutor and Scotland Yard’s initial failure to investigate tabloid wrongdoing properly.

The police dropped their phone hacking investigation in 2007, only beginning a new inquiry in 2010. London’s then police chief quit amid the scandal, while several serving police officers have been arrested.

Police appeared to have “no interest or willingness to uncover the full extent of the phone hacking,” and repeatedly failed to act on evidence they had, the report said.

A total of 43 people, including at least 25 past and present employees of News International, have been arrested in a new investigation into phone hacking, bribery and computer hacking.

Seeking not to prejudice those police inquiries, the panel declined comment on the culpability of ex-News of The World editors Brooks, an ex-News International chief executive, and Andy Coulson, the former communications director to Cameron.

Lawmakers did, however, criticize Brooks for a culture that permitted illegal acts at her newspaper in the Dowler case.

The claim that the tabloid not only listened to but interfered with messages left on the cellphone of 13-year-old Dowler in 2002 — before she was found dead — appalled many Britons as it exposed how grief-stricken ordinary people, in addition to celebrities and politicians, had been pursued.

Murdoch has so far paid out millions to settle lawsuits from 60 celebrities, athletes, politicians and other public figures whose voice mails were hacked. Dozens more lawsuits have been filed.

Printed on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 as: UK lawmakers call Murdoch 'unfit to run' media empire

LONDON — Britain’s High Court has ordered the country’s Internet service providers to block file-sharing website The Pirate Bay, the U.K.’s main music industry association said Monday.

A High Court judge told Sky, Everything Everywhere, TalkTalk, O2 and Virgin Media on Friday to prevent access to the Swedish site, which helps millions of people download copyrighted music, movies and computer games.

Music industry group BPI welcomed the order by justice Richard Arnold that the service providers block the site within the next few weeks.

BPI chief executive Geoff Taylor said sites like The Pirate Bay “destroy jobs in the U.K. and undermine investment in new British artists.”

The service providers said they would comply with the order. A sixth provider, BT, has been given several weeks to consider its position, but BPI said it expected BT would also block the website.

Providers who refuse could find themselves in breach of a court order, which can carry a large fine or jail time.

Monday’s announcement follows a February ruling by the same judge that the operators and users of The Pirate Bay have “a common design to infringe” the copyright of music companies.

The Pirate Bay has been a thorn in the side of the entertainment industry for years. In 2010, a Swedish appeals court upheld the copyright infringement convictions of three men behind the site, but it remains in operation.

The website, which has more than 20 million users around the world, does not host copyright-protected material itself, but provides a forum for its users to download content through so-called torrent files. The technology allows users to transfer parts of a large file from several different users, increasing download speeds.

Defenders of such sites say old creative industry business models have been overtaken by technology that allows music, movies and games to be acquired at the touch of a finger on computers, tablets, phones and other devices.

Both O2 and Virgin said banning orders against copyright-breaching sites had to be accompanied by other measures that reflected consumers’ behavior.

O2 said in a statement that “music rights holders should continue to develop new online business models to give consumers the content they want, how they want it, for a fair price.”

Printed on Tuesday, May 1st, 2012: The Pirate Bay banned in Britain over 'common desire' to pirate

A protester dressed up as Rupert Murdoch poses for photographs as he demonstrate outside the Leveson inquiry at the High Court in London on Tuesday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

LONDON — News Corp. executive James Murdoch’s behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign spilled out into the public domain Tuesday, casting a harsh light on the British government’s Olympics czar.

Murdoch was speaking before the media ethics inquiry set up in the wake of the country’s phone hacking scandal, which has shaken the U.K.’s establishment with revelations of journalistic misdeeds, police corruption, and corporate malpractice.

Some of Murdoch’s testimony revisited his own role in the scandal, but far more explosive were revelations about how senior British ministers went out of their way to smooth the path for one of his biggest-ever business deals.

Particularly damning was correspondence showing how Olympics czar Jeremy Hunt secretly backed Murdoch’s multibillion dollar bid for full control of satellite broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC. As the minister charged with deciding whether to refer the takeover deal to Britain’s competition authority, Hunt was meant to have been neutral.

“I am approaching the decision with total impartiality and following strict due process,” Hunt told lawmakers in January 2011. But a cache of text messages and emails published by Leveson’s inquiry Tuesday suggested that Hunt was fighting on Murdoch’s side the whole time.

“He said we would get there at the end, and he shared our objectives,” was how an email from News Corp. lobbyist Frederic Michel described Hunt’s attitude.

Other emails appeared to capture Hunt’s office providing Murdoch with sensitive intelligence on his political opponents and offering advice on how best to present his bid. At one point Adam Smith, Hunt’s special adviser, sends a text message to Michel boasting that “I [have] been causing a lot of chaos and moaning from people here on your behalf.”

One message even quoted Hunt’s statement a day before it was due to be delivered to the House of Commons — a breach of parliamentary protocol which Michel described as “absolutely illegal.”

Later Tuesday, Hunt issued a statement saying that some of the evidence “reported meetings and conversations that simply didn’t happen.” He said he has asked to move forward his appearance at the Leveson inquiry so he can present his side of the story.

“I am very confident that when I present my evidence the public will see that I conducted this process with scrupulous fairness,” Hunt said.

During Tuesday’s hearing, inquiry lawyer Robert Jay repeatedly needled Murdoch on the propriety of these back-channel communications.

“Do you think it’s appropriate, Mr. Murdoch, that here you are getting confidential information as to what’s going on at a high level of government?” Jay asked.

Murdoch hesitated before giving an awkward laugh.

“What I was concerned with here was the substance of what was being communicated, not the channel by which it was communicated,” he said.

Murdoch was eventually forced to drop the proposed deal following the eruption of Britain’s phone hacking scandal in July, but the emails could be still be damaging.

As secretary for culture, Olympics, media and sport, Hunt is the most senior government official dedicated to the 2012 Games. If it were proven that he had given Murdoch special favors, his lead role on the games — where a level playing field is guaranteed for all — might be in jeopardy.

Prime Minister David Cameron expressed confidence in the 45-year-old minister, but within minutes of Murdoch’s testimony, opposition politicians were calling on Hunt to step down.

“All politicians, including Labour, became too close to the Murdochs, but this is in a completely different league,” Labour leader Ed Miliband told journalists. “We have Jeremy Hunt engaging in detailed discussions with a party, News Corporation, that is bidding to take over BSkyB and he is supposed to be the impartial judge.”

The nature of the Murdoch family’s links with senior politicians is one of the key questions raised by the phone hacking scandal. Critics of News Corp. argue that Conservative Party politicians — including Hunt — waved through the BSkyB deal in return for favorable press coverage. Murdoch, showing little emotion, repeatedly denied the charge Tuesday.

“I would never have made that kind of a crass calculation. It just wouldn’t occur to me,” he said.

Murdoch’s testimony gave a feel for his company’s considerable clout, detailing 20-odd dinners, lunches, breakfasts and other meetings with Cameron and other leaders — including former prime ministers Gordon Brown and Tony Blair.

Earlier in the hearing Murdoch was forced to defend his record at the head of his father’s scandal-plagued British newspaper arm, saying that subordinates prevented him from making a clean sweep at the now-defunct News of the World tabloid.

Murdoch repeated allegations that the tabloid’s then-editor Colin Myler and the company’s former in-house lawyer, Tom Crone, misled him about the scale of illegal behavior at the newspaper.

Leveson asked Murdoch: “Can you think of a reason why Mr. Myler or Mr. Crone should keep this information from you? Was your relationship with them such that they may think: ‘Well we needn’t bother him with that’ or ‘We better keep it from it because he’ll ask to cut out the cancer’?”

“That must be it,” Murdoch said. “I would say: ‘Cut out the cancer,’ and there was some desire to not do that.”

Murdoch’s father Rupert, News Corp.’s executive chairman, is scheduled to testify before Leveson on Wednesday morning.

Media analyst Paul Connew predicted more pain for British politicians. “James Murdoch’s appearance is only the warm up act,” he said.

Printed on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 as: Murdoch inquiry affects top UK officials

LONDON (AP) — Zoo officials have created a private love nest for Britain’s only pair of giant pandas in hope the fertility-challenged animals will mate — and Wednesday may be their last chance for quite a while.

Keepers at Edinburgh Zoo have opened a “love tunnel” between the enclosures of male Yang Guang and female Tian Tian in a bid to encourage mating, and have turned off the “panda cam” that allows people to watch the pandas online.

It is hoped the privacy will encourage the animals.

Giant pandas have difficulty breeding, with females fertile for only two or three days a year.

Zookeepers brought the pair together Tuesday after tests showed Tian Tian had ovulated. The zoo said that despite “encouraging” signs and some wrestling, they had not mated so far.

The 8-year-old animals met twice Wednesday and had come “closer than ever before” to mating, but again failed to do so, a zoo spokeswoman said.

The zoo may try one last time Thursday, if the female panda’s hormones showed signs she would still be receptive to mating.

The animals — whose names mean Sunshine and Sweetie — arrived from China in December.

They have been drawing a steady stream of visitors to the zoo, which has had to allocate time slots to accommodate those hoping to view the pandas.

The pair, who are on loan, were also removed from public view in January when they were treated for colic.

They are the first pandas to live in Britain in nearly two decades.

Argentina's President Cristina Fernadez tosses carnations into the Beagle Channel at a ceremony marking the 30th anniversary of hte start of the Falkland conflict near the war memorial in Ushuaia Argentina on Monday

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

USHUAIA, Argentina — Argentina’s president said Monday that she’s asked the International Red Cross to persuade Britain to let its DNA experts identify unknown soldiers buried in the Falkland Islands.

Thirty years after Argentina and Britain went to war over the remote South Atlantic archipelago, Cristina Fernandez says universal human rights demand that both countries work together to give those remains back to their families.

Her much-anticipated speech on the anniversary of Argentina’s April 2, 1982 invasion of the islands was focused on promoting dialogue and understanding. She said her government sets a global standard for protecting human rights and vowed to “respect the interests of the islanders” as Argentina seeks to peacefully regain control.

“We don’t have war drums, nor do we wear military helmets. Our only helmets are those of construction workers, working for the inclusion of all,” she said at the city’s Monument to the Fallen, honoring the 649 Argentines who died in the conflict.

Despite attention-grabbing images of protesters burning a Union Jack flag outside the British embassy, polls show zero appetite among Argentines for a military solution.

Prime Minister David Cameron said in London earlier Monday that Britain had to come to the islanders’ defense in 1982, and will do so again if anyone tries to deprive them of their liberty. The 74-day occupation ended when British troops routed the ill-prepared Argentines in hard-fought trench warfare. In all, 255 British soldiers and three islanders were killed.

Fernandez called Cameron’s statement absurd and ridiculous, noting that Argentines were also deprived of their liberty at the time, living under a 1976-1983 dictatorship, supported by outside powers, that had kidnapped and killed thousands of its own people.

“I am proud of having made promoting human rights one of the pillars of our state,” she said. For this reason, it’s impossible to consider that Argentina would not also protect the rights of the 3,000 islanders, she argued.

Britain has refused Argentina’s repeated calls to negotiate the islands’ sovereignty, saying it’s up to the islanders to decide. Before, during and after the 1982 conflict, the islanders have overwhelmingly said they want to maintain British protection.

For about a year now, Argentina has been intensifying its campaign to pressure Britain into sovereignty talks, a theme it pushes in every international forum. Argentina’s historical claim to the islands Latin America knows as Las Malvinas has support across the region, and got moral backing last week from a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners who scolded Britain for ignoring U.N. resolutions urging talks.

Argentina has closed off shipping routes and air space. Unions have refused to unload British cargo or accept British-flagged cruise ships. Fernandez’s ministers have sought to close off British imports, sue British investors and banks, and block oil development.

It adds up to an “economic war” that has made life difficult, but Argentina seems to be running out of leverage and is no closer to recovering the territory that fell under British control in 1833, said Dick Sawle, a member of Falkland Islands legislative assembly.

“I think that Brazil, Uruguay and Chile will see what they’re missing in the Falklands, and at that point it just becomes a lot of shouting across the water that can be ignored,” Sawle added.

As for identifying the war dead, Sawle said last month that his government would await a formal proposal before commenting.

While the president explicitly sought to reassure islanders several times in Monday’s speech, feelings on both sides have hardened.

“Penguin News” Editor Lisa Watson said she tries to find the right tone as she responds to hate mail through public Twitter messages. But it didn’t help when Argentines discovered that the newspaper’s photo of Fernandez had been saved under a crude insult.

“It never occurred to us that the filename would be so transparent. It was hugely embarrassing, particularly now as we were seemingly winning the image war,” Watson’s colleague John Fowler said. “Before that, Lisa had been pretty continuously receiving hundreds and hundreds of nasty sexually insulting messages a day.”

Argentina has variously tried to charm, occupy, negotiate and threaten its way back into the islands. In the 1970s, it established a direct air link with Buenos Aires, supplied them with gasoline and paid to educate island children. For Britain, the island had become a burden; it was pushing islanders to accept a Hong Kong-style handover before the junta decided to invade.

For many islanders and Argentines, those 74 days of armed occupation provided their only glimpse of each others’ lives.

Other attempts to build ties in the 1990s included agreements on shared fishing and oil rights, shipping and air links and other exchanges, but nearly all were abandoned under Fernandez and her late husband Nestor Kirchner, who have sought to isolate the islands instead.

“Thirty years and now we find it again, we are worried we are going to go through it all again, another invasion,” islander Mary Lou Agman said at a Sunday march by the small Falkland Islands Defense Force.

Islanders should relax, because another invasion will never happen, said James Peck, an islander with dual Falklands-Argentine nationality after marrying an Argentine and moving to Buenos Aires, said he saw the pre-anniversary war of words “fueling itself and becoming hysterical.”

“Someone has to speak out for common sense,” he said. “For me Argentina has real dignity these days, and I’m amazed that grown up politicians cannot sit down and talk civilly to each other. I think that’s really sad. Not everybody’s getting stoked up by all this.”

Riot police outside the British embassy fired tear gas and blue-painted water from a cannon at protesters wielding slingshots and throwing bottles of burning liquid. But outside this small group, Argentines from across the political spectrum endorsed the pacifist response.

“The soveriegnty campaign seems correct to me. I don’t think there’s any other road but the diplomatic one, although I don’t have confidence in anything this government does,” said Martin Dhers, who joined a solemn crowd outside the Buenos Aires war memorial.

Yearning for common ground, several veterans were holding a quiet ceremony at the Argentine war cemetery in the islands, on a lonely bluff near the scene of one of the most intense battles.

“To return to this little piece of land, which for me is a little bit of my country and apart from that, being here is so pleasing, to be among the people that were once our enemies, that which we can now live together with — it’s just really proof that we human beings are not like animals,” said Juan Carlos Lujan.

LONDON — Every email to your child. Every status update for your friends. Every message to your mistress. The U.K. government is preparing proposals for a nationwide electronic surveillance network that could potentially keep track of every message sent by any Brit to anyone at any time, an industry official briefed on the government’s moves said Sunday.

Plans for a massive government database of the country’s phone and email traffic were abandoned in 2008 following a public outcry. But James Blessing of the Internet Service Providers’ Association said the government appears to be “reintroducing it on a slightly different format.”

Blessing said the move was disclosed to his association by Britain’s Home Office during a meeting in recent weeks.

Britain’s Home Office declined comment, saying an announcement would have to be made to Parliament first — possibly as soon as next month.

There was no indication of exactly how such a system would work or to what degree of judicial oversight would be involved, if any.

A Home Office spokesman insisted that any new surveillance program would not involve prying into the content of emails or voice conversations. “It’s not about the content,” the official said, speaking anonymously in line with office policy. “It’s about the who, what, where and when.”

In a statement, the Home Office said it’s vital that police and intelligence services “are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism, and to protect the public.”

Authorities already have access to a huge wealth of communications data, although the standards for retaining it differ depending on whether, for example, conversations are carried out over the phone, in an email, or over an instant messaging program.

Generally, authorities request such information during an investigation. A standardized mass-monitoring program capturing of every email, every post and every tweet would spell the creation of a formidable new surveillance regime.

“It is not focusing on terrorists or on criminals,” Conservative lawmaker David Davis told the BBC. “It is absolutely everybody.”

“Our freedom and privacy has been protected by using the courts by saying: ‘If you want to intercept, if you want to look at something, fine. If it is a terrorist or a criminal, go and ask a magistrate and you’ll get your approval.’

“You shouldn’t go beyond that in a decent, civilized society, but that is what is being proposed.”

Cost could be an issue as well.

Blessing said it would likely require the installation of tens of thousands of specialized pieces of hardware to monitor the country’s Internet traffic. The price tag would run into the billions of pounds (dollars), a cost he said would either have to be borne by the taxpayer or by Internet service companies, who would in turn have little choice but to pass it on to their customers.

In either case, U.K. Internet users would be paying extra to allow their government to spy on them more effectively.

The revamped surveillance plans were first reported by Britain’s The Sunday Times newspaper.

LONDON — Dozens of officials in Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime will be blocked from attending the London Olympics, Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron confirmed yesterday as he pledged to make the event “the greatest show on Earth.”

Cameron said those subject to international travel bans and asset freezes would not be able to attend the sporting spectacle, which takes place from July 27-Aug. 12.

“I don’t think we should punish the athletes for the sins of the regime, so Syria will be taking part in the games and that is right,” Cameron told reporters as he held talks with International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, who was in town for the IOC’s final inspection visit before the games.

“But let’s be absolutely clear, Britain has led efforts within the European Union and elsewhere to institute asset bans, travel freezes and punishing sanctions against this despicable regime. Anyone covered by one of those travel bans will not be welcome in London,” Cameron said.

A total of 41 organizations and 127 people linked to the Syrian regime have had EU sanctions imposed upon them, including Assad’s British-born wife, Asma. Diplomats have conceded they could not prevent her from entering Britain, but insist they do not expect her to try to travel to the U.K. Britain’s Home Office, which is responsible for border control, will need to decide whether to grant a visa to attend the Olympics to Syrian Olympic Committee president Gen. Mowaffak Joumaa, a close Assad aide who is not currently covered by sanctions.

The ministry can deny entry if it feels an individual’s presence in Britain would not be “conducive to the public good.”

Published on Thursday, March 29, 2012 as: Britain welcomes Syrians not subject to travel bans to Olympics.

LONDON — Britain can no longer ignore that its influence on the world is shrinking amid the rise of developing nations, a panel of senior lawmakers said Thursday in a sharply critical report.

The group also said Britain should prepare for looser ties with the United States as the U.S. shifts its focus from western Europe.

Parliament’s Joint Committee on National Security Strategy, which includes an ex-head of the domestic MI5 spy agency, Eliza Manningham-Buller, rebuked Prime Minister David Cameron’s government over its failure to accept that the nation’s power is in decline as austerity measures trim the nation’s military and dent diplomatic ranks.

Britain’s national security strategy, published in October 2010, insisted that the U.K. would maintain its position as a major world power, despite budget constraints and the shift of economic might from the West to the developing world.

“This is wholly unrealistic in the medium to long term and the U.K. needs to plan for a changing, and more partnership dependent, role in the world,” the committee said in its report.

Cameron is making spending cuts worth about $162 billion through 2017 aimed at slashing Britain’s budget deficit, including an 8 percent reduction to its annual $58.8 billion defense budget over four years.

The panel of House of Commons and House of Lords members also urged Cameron to “reflect deeply on the long term implications” of the U.S. turning its attention away from Europe.