Ministers to rethink ‘snooper’s charter’ Bill

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron. Picture: Getty
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron. Picture: Getty
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MINISTERS have signalled they will rewrite a Bill that gives police and security services new powers to monitor communications, after an influential parliamentary committee branded it “overkill” and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said it needed a “fundamental rethink”.

Home Secretary Theresa May said yesterday she was determined to press ahead with the Communications Bill, dubbed a “snooper’s charter” by critics.

But she accepted the “substance” of a highly critical report by the committee set up to scrutinise the draft version of the Bill, which would allow a range of official bodies to monitor

e-mails, web phone calls and activity on social networking sites.

Under the draft Bill, details of these activities, but not their content, could be kept for a year, but there would be no real-time monitoring of communications.

Police, the security services, the new National Crime Agency and HM Revenue and Customs would be able to access the data, but the draft Bill also gives the Home Secretary the power to extend access to others, such as the UK Borders Agency.

The committee of MPs and peers said the legislation would give the Home Secretary “sweeping powers to issue secret notices” ordering communications firms to disclose “potentially limitless categories of data”.

And they accused the government of using “fanciful and misleading” figures to support its case for the legislation.

Mr Clegg said on Monday night he was ready to block the Bill in its current form, and called on the Home Office to go “back to the drawing board”.

“The coalition government needs to have a fundamental rethink about this legislation,” said the Deputy Prime Minister. “We cannot proceed with this Bill and we have to go back to the drawing board. We need to reflect properly on the criticisms that the committee have made, while also consulting much more widely with business and other interested groups.”