Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Data legislation rethink signalled

Nick Clegg has said proposed legislation handing powers to official bodies to monitor communications more thoroughly need a 'fundamental rethink'

Ministers have signalled they will rewrite a Bill which gives police and security services new powers to monitor communications, after Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said it needed a "fundamental rethink".

Home Secretary Theresa May said she was determined to press ahead without delay with the Communications Bill, which has been 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 emails, 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 (HMRC) 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.

Mr Clegg said: "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. 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."

Mrs May used an article in The Sun to stress that legislation is needed to help security agencies keep pace with technological advances, which she said were being exploited by terrorists and paedophiles.

"You and your loved ones have the right to expect the Government to protect you from harm," said the Home Secretary. "I will not allow these vitally important laws to be delayed any longer in this Parliament. This law is needed and it is needed now. And I am determined to see it through."

But she added: "Parliament has made suggestions about how our plans could be improved and we will accept the substance of its recommendations."

Mr Cameron's official spokesman told a regular Westminster press briefing: "We understand that this is a controversial subject. That is why the Government took the decision to subject the Bill to pre-legislative scrutiny."

The spokesman added: "There is no difference of opinion on the principle here. We are all committed to fixing this problem that we have, which is that our capability is diminishing because of technology. We want to maintain that capability, we are not looking to extend it."

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