Deputy PM blocks U.K. communications surveillance bill


Britain's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has put the kibosh on a draft Communications Data Bill that would have given police and intelligence services the power to monitor all email and internet use in the UK, according to the BBC. Although the British Home Office said the legislation was needed "without delay" to combat crime and terrorism, Clegg has called for a "fundamental rethink" of the proposed law and said he would block the bill while seeking an alternative "balance between security and liberty."

Clegg's opposition to the bill was in response to a critical report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Bill which concluded that the legislation paid "insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy" and went "much further than it need or should for the purpose of providing necessary and justifiable official access to communications data."

In its report, the committee said the Home Secretary would be given "sweeping powers to issue secret notices to communications service providers, requiring them to retain and disclose potentially limitless categories of data." As a result, Clegg was firm in his assessment that "we cannot proceed with this bill and we have to go back to the drawing board."

The controversial Communications Data Bill would include, for the first time, details of messages sent on social media, webmail, voice calls over the internet and gaming, as well as emails and phone calls, with the time, duration, originator and recipient of a communication and the location of the device from which it was made. It would not, however, include the content of messages and what is being said. Under the proposed law, officers would need a warrant to see that information, but they would not need the permission of a judge to see details of the time and place of messages, provided they were investigating a crime or protecting national security.

Among the other provisions in the draft bill, a proposed measure would have Internet service providers store for a year all details of online communication in the the United Kingdom, such as the time, duration, originator and recipient of a communication and the location of the device from which it was made.

In an official statement regarding the joint committee's report, Information Commissioner Christopher Graham expressed his concern about the "adequacy of the proposed safeguards that the [Information Commissioner's Office] would be responsible for regulating," noting that "ensuring the security of retained personal information and its destruction after 12 months would require increased powers and resources, and as it stands today we've not been given clear advice on where that will come from."

Despite growing criticism of the draft bill, a Home Office spokesman said the legislation is "vital to help catch pedophiles, terrorists and other serious criminals." Nevertheless, the spokesman stated that the committee's recommendations have been carefully reviewed, the substance of which has been accepted by the Home Office.

For more:
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