The government is advocating prison sentences for executives of internet service providers that are caught snooping on sensitive customer information, it has been reported.
The move, which also applies to mobile phone companies, is being proposed as part of modifications to the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, according to the Independent.
The recommendations follow claims that some ISPs and other firms are tracking users' habits in order to sell the data to advertisers and marketers. Some observers have highlighted potential double standards, whereby phone tapping is punished with jail but interception of digital communications has met a lesser sentence.
Under the proposed changes, executives at ISPs that are caught snooping could face prison sentences of up to two years.
There will also be the threat of a £10,000 fine for those who unintentionally access customer data illegally.
RIPA has long been a controversial act and its opponents say it was not debated properly in parliament. There have also been accusations that some councils use RIPA to monitor people and catch them making smaller misdemeanours such as fly tipping or allowing their dogs to foul pavements.
A spokesperson at the Home Office told the newspaper: "The proposed change [to the act] would provide additional protection for users by making it clear when users have explicitly given their consent to their information being used."