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MPs savage Home Office's snooping charter

11 Dec 2012
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MPs have savaged the government's snooping charter, warning that the draft Communications Bill pays “insufficient attention” to Britons' right to privacy and must be “significantly amended”.

The Joint Committee, which has been scrutinising the proposals for the past six months, said the plans to force internet service providers to store communications data for a year must be “significantly narrowed” and new safeguards are required to ensure new powers are not abused.

'There needs to be some substantial re-writing of the Bill before it is brought before Parliament,” said Lord Blencathra, chairman of the Joint Committee in the report.

“There is a fine but crucial line between allowing our law enforcement and security agencies access to the information they need to protect the country and allowing our citizens to go about their daily business without a fear, however unjustified, that the state is monitoring their every move.”

The Joint Committee's calls were backed by a separate report from the Intelligence and Security Committee. It had been examining the UK's intelligence agencies need to be able to access communications data, but concluded the draft proposals went too far.

“We believe that the draft Bill pays insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy, and goes much further than it need or should for the purpose of providing necessary and justifiable official access to communications data,” the ISC concluded.

According to Liberal MP Julian Huppert, who sat on the Joint Committee, the draft Communications Bill is now “dead in the water”.

“If the Home Office want to update any powers, they need to start again, consult properly, and only produce something that is proportionate, workable and affordable. There is no prospect of them getting the broad powers they have asked for in this Bill.

The conclusions were welcomed by opponents of the proposals, including the Open Rights Group.

“The Home Office have behaved in a misleading fashion, exaggerating the evidence. We now need a complete review of surveillance law before any new legislation is considered," said Jim Killock, executive director of the ORG.

“The complexity and sensitivity of the subject required a radically different process and a totally different bill,” added Nick Pickles, director of privacy group Big Brother Watch.

“There are challenges, but they can be solved in a proportionate way that protects privacy, is based on what is technically possible and focuses on maximising the effectiveness of data already held.”

Home secretary Theresa May has argued that new powers are needed to help UK law enforcement combat the threat from terrorists and criminal groups, who could use the internet to organise themselves with little fear their plots would be uncovered.

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