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11.12.12

Lib Dems demand re-write of ‘snoopers’ charter’

The Draft Communications Data Bill must be completely rewritten, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has stated, following two highly critical reports into the Home Secretary’s proposals.

The Bill allows emails, web use, social media and mobile phone communications to be tracked by the police, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the intelligence agencies and HMRC.

Internet service providers would store all details of online communications in the UK for a year, as well as web browsing history and police would not have to seek permission to access details of communications if investigating a crime.

The cross-party joint committee examining the Bill found that the estimated price tag of the plans – £1.8bn over 10 years – was “fanciful and misleading”, and the Intelligence and Security Committee raised concerns about the precise categories of communications to be collected.

The joint committee’s report says: “Our overall conclusion is that there is a case for legislation which will provide the law enforcement authorities with some further access to communications data, but that the current draft Bill is too sweeping, and goes further than it need or should. We believe that, with the benefit of fuller consultation…the Government will be able to devise a more proportionate measure than the present draft Bill, which would achieve most of what they really need, would encroach less upon privacy, would be more acceptable to the CSPs [communications service providers], and would cost the taxpayer less.”

Clegg has stated that he will block the Bill, in the light of the committee’s “serious criticisms – not least on scope, proportionality, cost, checks and balances, and the need for much wider consultation”.

He said: “It is for those reasons that I believe the Coalition Government needs to have a fundamental rethink about this legislation. We cannot proceed with this bill and we have to go back to the drawing board.”

But Theresa May stated in the Sun: “Labour tried to bring a Bill forward previously but they ducked the tough decision in the end. I am certain I am not going to duck that decision. Countries across the world are taking action now to help them track paedophiles and terrorists who abuse new technology to plot their horrific crimes. We must not get left behind.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “This legislation is vital to help catch paedophiles, terrorists and other serious criminals and we are pleased both scrutiny committees have recognised the need for new laws.

“We have now considered the committees’ recommendations carefully and we will accept the substance of them all. But there can be no delay to this legislation. It is needed by law enforcement agencies now.”

Former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown has previously said the Bill breaches the Coalition Agreement between his party and the Conservatives, and said: “It is one of our rights as free citizens to talk to whom we wish, when we wish and wherever we wish without the state knowing about it, unless there is good cause for it to do so. It is not just the content of our communication that is private. It is the fact that it occurred at all, when and for how long. In the case of an e-mail, it would plainly reveal the whole thing from the sender through to the signature at the end. The ‘content’ cannot be separated from the context.”

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