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UK data snooping bill needs a rethink

Communications Data Bill sent back to the drawing board
Tue Dec 11 2012, 09:51
The Houses of Parliament in London

THE UK Communications Data Bill, or "Snoopers' Charter" is too encompassing and needs a complete overhaul, according to a Parliamentary committee with the backing of the UK deputy prime minister.

Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg said that he will block passage of the data snooping bill until it is redrafted into a workable document.

Clegg said that as the bill stands it has problems and needs to be thoroughly rethought. He said that he will oppose its passage in its present form.

His comments followed the publication of a report from the Parliament Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill. That report said that the bill must be "significantly amended", and warned that it must only cover "necessary data".

"The Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Bill has concluded that the draft Bill must be significantly narrowed," it said.

At issue is Clause 1 of the draft bill. As written the clause would give the Home Secretary, Theresa May sweeping snooping powers and the ability to demand communications data from a raft of communications providers. The committee warned that unless this is scaled back the new bill should not be passed.

Lord Blencathra, David John Maclean, Chair of the Joint Committee and a Conservative, said that the bill needs some "substantial re-writing" before being reintroduced in Parliament.

"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," he said.

"The breadth of the draft Bill as it stands appears to be overkill and is much wider than the specific needs identified by the law enforcement agencies. We urge the Government to reconsider its zeal to future-proof legislation and concentrate on getting the immediate necessities right."

Clegg is keen on this stance and added his own vow that "it shall not pass", saying that there is no way the bill should be allowed to proceed as it stands. Clegg said that he wants a rethink on the legislation.

"[The committee's] report makes a number of 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."

The Committee's report calls for a more measured rewrite that seriously addresses what kind of data should be stored, as well as how much of it can be taken and who gets access to it.

It calls for "definitions of communications data, that are narrower in scope," and suggests that "willful or reckless misuse of communications data becomes a specific offence that is punishable, where appropriate, by a prison term".

The bill was discussed this past Summer by Theresa May, and then the Home Secretary said that it was just right for catching the sort of criminals that the government is after.

"Communications data saves lives. It is a vital tool for the police to catch criminals and to protect children. If we stand by as technology changes we will leave police officers fighting crime with one hand tied behind their backs," she said.

"Checking communication records, not content, is a crucial part of day-to-day policing and the fingerprinting of the modern age - we are determined to ensure its continued availability in cracking down on crime."

Loz Kaye, the leader of the UK Pirate Party said that following the publication of the report it was time for "May to stop making exaggerated claims for the Snoopers' Charter and see sense." µ


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