The government must do more to stop internet service providers from snooping on citizens' emails and web habits without their consent, ex-cyber security minister Lord West is reported as saying.

Former Labour minister Lord West said it was too easy to flout existing rules which dictate that ISPs must first ask permission before looking at people's private emails and web surfing patterns for financial gain, according to the BBC.

Some ISPs have already trialled the Phorm software that logs surfers' website visits to enable them to target ads at users. Another area of concern is Deep Packet Inspection software, which reads e-mails and identifies key words. It is reportedly in widespread use in the UK, according to campaigners.

The Labour peer raised the issue in the House of Lords earlier this week. He said he had asked officials to start work on a crackdown against ISP abuses when he was in government, before the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition came to power.

Lord West said: "Giving private companies the right to go and look into people's emails is something I find rather unhealthy. It's clear the police will ignore all but the most blatant abuses."

"If, as a minister, I wanted to look at someone's e-mails I would, quite rightly, have to seek the permission of the home secretary. But these companies want the right to go into people's emails and look for key words without anyone's permission."