Snoopers’ charter knocked back?

Posted: December 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

by Daphne Liddle

HOME Secretary Theresa May has been forced to withdraw and rewrite her Communications Data Bill, known generally as the “snoopers’ charter” after it provoked opposition from Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and a significant number of backbench Tories, including former Home Secretary David Davis.

The Bill coincides with similar measures being proposed around the western world: in the United States, in Australia and in the United Nations and involves governments demanding that internet service providers keep records of every electronic communication.

The draft Bill would allow the government to order a communications service provider — such as Facebook or BT – to collect and store the communications data relating to all of the traffic they deal with. This would include details of internet usage, including websites visited, internet searches, private social media messages and even the online video games played.

We are told that the demand is coming from police authorities who insist it is urgently necessary to retain and monitor billions of private communications in order to track down “terrorists and paedophiles”.

But even right-wing politicians are not happy at the idea of their private communications being available to the police in this way and there has been a mighty backlash against the proposals abroad and in Britain.

David Davis told the Guardian: “This bill needs to go straight back to the drawing board. What it requires is a wholesale rewrite.” Even then, Davis said, it would still probably not make it on to the statute book before the next general election.

He called for a system more targeted at “those with suspect backgrounds” but conceded that the security services and police need greater powers.

The Lib-Dems and rebel Tories also protested at the costs that would be involved in such wholesale snooping.

Davis described the estimate of £1.8 billion as “written on the back of an MI6 fag packet”.

The Cabinet has now conceded the Bill stood no chance of being passed and has withdrawn it for redrafting.

In an article in the Sun newspaper, May made clear she would accept the substance of MPs’ and peers’ concerns but remained determined to push through these “vitally important laws” without any further delay as they were needed to “track paedophiles and terrorists”.

She wrote: “I have been absolutely clear that we need to introduce this bill in this session.”

She also said: “Anybody who is against this bill is putting politics before people’s lives”.

The National Union of Journalists is opposed to the Bill, saying it endangers journalists’ sources of information — as well as being a serious attack on the privacy of citizens’ electronic data.

Law enforcement agencies will be able to trawl that data and cross reference it with other data sources through a communications data search engine, revealing social connections and confidential communication between journalists and their sources.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: “This draft bill is a major assault on civil liberties for all citizens and a threat to press freedom. For journalists it would be a direct attack on the way they work and would severely undermine their ability to protect their sources, materials and whistle-blowers.”

There is no particular urgency for the ruling class for this measure; they are just eager for it because it is technically possible. But anyone with any sense is well aware of the ease in which electronic communications can be monitored, with or without legal sanction, and will not commit anything really confidential to any piece of electronic equipment.

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