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Queen's speech confirms government internet snooping plans still in place

09 May 2012
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The government has used the Queen's Speech to confirm it intends to press ahead with controversial snooping plans that will make it easier for the police and intelligence agencies to access communications data.

While the announcement was light on detail, previous discussions hinted that the government wants to be able to access emails and web records at will.

“My Government intends to bring forward measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses,” the Queen told parliament.

Those details have already prompted inflammatory responses from privacy campaigners.

“The Home Office have been very good at saying what the problem is, but seem intent on keeping the technical details of what they are proposing secret,” said Nick Pickles, a director of Big Brother Watch, in a blog post.

“Is it any wonder that the public are scared by a proposal for online surveillance not seen in any other Western democracy?”

Whether the proposals will meet European data protection laws depends on what protections are included in the forthcoming bill, said Sarah Needham, data protection lawyer at law firm Taylor Wessing.

"In order not to infringe our [European] laws, the snooping must be fair, justified and proportionate to the objective," she warned.

The Conservative party had been fiercely critical of the internet surveillance plans of the previous Labour administration, but has seemingly gained an appetite for snooping having taken power. 

Last month, the Home Office confirmed it want snooping powers adding to the Queen's Speech.

"It is vital that police and security services are able to obtain communications data in certain circumstances to investigate serious crime and terrorism and to protect the public," it said in a statement.

The announcement was criticised by Jim Killock executive director of the Open Rights Group who argued that it would give police powers that would be open to abuse.

"Gaining access to your Facebook and Google data without court supervision is not preserving powers, it is a massive extension of the ability of a police officer to see what you are doing," he said.

"It would be wide open to abuse, endangering whistleblowers and journalists' sources.

"The interception powers open a whole new can of worms. No law has ever previously claimed that people's communications data should be collected by third parties just in case. This data has never been previously collected.

"This Bill could mark the end of the government's reputation as a force for protecting our freedom and privacy. They should scrap it now."

Further details of the government proposals can be expected in the coming months.

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