Over the Liberal Democrats’ dead body, says Clegg
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg has promised to stop the Communications Data Bill, which would give the police greater access to personal communications data. Clegg pledged that the so-called “Snooper’s Charter” will not reach Parliament as long as the Liberal Democrats are in government.
Clegg made the comments during an interview on LBC radio this morning, saying: “What people dub the Snooper’s Charter, that’s not going to happen – certainly with Lib Dems in government.”
The bill, which is currently in draft form but was expected to appear in the Queen’s Speech on 8 May, would have let the government order communications providers, including the likes of Facebook and Skype, to store information on all citizens so law enforcement could easily access it.
It would provide a filter to police, allowing them to easily search through comms data, which does not include the content of messages, but the who, when and from where. The aim was to modernise policing laws to bring them in line with the current quality of comms technology.
The Bill has faced massive opposition from some within government, privacy advocacy spheres and in the tech industry. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was a particularly vocal opponent, pointing out that the cost of the bill, estimated to reach at least £1.8 billion, was considerably more than the government had spent on fostering an exciting start-up community around London’s Tech City.
Some said that Britain’s start-ups would have their growth stunted if businesses were asked to store vast records of communications. Others criticsed the Bill on practical grounds, pointing out how easy it is to maintain anonymity on the Internet.
Privacy advocates and Liberal Democrat MPs are hailing Clegg’s comments as a victory, even though the Home Office is yet to comment on the matter. But being deputy prime minister, Clegg sees all bills before they become official and has vetoing power.
Theresa May said earlier this month the Home Office had taken the recommendations of the committee scrutinising the bill on board. She said it was in the process of redrafting the proposals, but that may now be to no avail.
“These Labour and Conservative efforts to have all of our web records stored and monitored by the government was an affront to basic liberty. The plans were based on patchy evidence, ignorance of modern technology and a complete disregard for our basic rights,” wrote Julian Huppert MP, who was on the committee scrutinising the draft bill.
“Put simply, they were anathema to our Party: the only British political party which is dedicated to protecting the rights of every citizen.
“This is truly an immense moment for any liberal, and every Liberal Democrat.”
Earlier this week, privacy groups wrote to ISPs, accusing them of colluding with the government in a “conspiracy of silence”over the Snooper’s Charter. Big Brother Watch, Privacy International and the Open Rights Group claimed customers were being betrayed, as they had not been asked whether they agreed to have their communications data collected.
“Recording the websites we look at and who we email would not have made us safer, as some of the country’s leading cyber security academics argued this week,” Big Brother Watch wrote.
“It would have made Britain a less attractive place to start a company and put British companies in the position of being paid by the government to spy on their customers, something that oppressive regimes around the world would have quickly copied.”
The Home Office told TechWeek it would not comment on the matter as the bill was still being worked on.
If the bill is dead, questions will likely be asked why the government has already spent £400 million in laying the groundwork for the law, which may now never make it to the Queen’s Speech.
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