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Theresa May: Spying laws will not allow agencies to trawl through internet data

Published 01/11/2015

New laws covering interception of internet communications by security services will not restrict or ban encryption
New laws covering interception of internet communications by security services will not restrict or ban encryption

Spying laws will not give the authorities powers to trawl through people's internet browsing histories, the Home Secretary has insisted.

New measures, which come after the coalition ditched previous plans amid claims they amounted to a "snoopers' charter", will have "world leading" oversight arrangements, Theresa May said.

The Investigatory Powers Bill, due to be set out on Wednesday, will not include powers to restrict encryption, she confirmed.

"Encryption is important for people to be able to keep themselves safe when they are dealing with these modern communications in the digital age but what we will be doing is setting out the current position, which does enable the authorities with proper authorisation to issue warrants," Mrs May told BBC One's Andrew Marr Show.

The Home Secretary insisted the Government "will not be giving powers to go through people's browsing history".

She said: "If there are more intrusive requirements, then of course, warrants are required for those."

"What I am clear about is that there will be in this Bill strong oversight and authorisation arrangements," she added.

"What the Bill will do on Wednesday is, it sets a modern legal framework but, crucially, it has very strong oversight arrangements within it.

"I think it will be world leading oversight arrangements within the Bill. It will be clear and more comprehensive and comprehensible than the previous legislation has been."

More than 1,400 warrants authorising more intrusive measures cross the Home Secretary's desk a year, she said.

Mrs May said she spent "as long as is necessary" considering each one and time was set aside in her diary every day to allow that to happen.

Ministers have looked at all the arguments about handing over that responsibility to independent judges and the decision will be announced on Wednesday, she added.

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham said there was a "broad acceptance" that a new law was needed.

He told Murnaghan on Sky News: "The online world has created blind spots the authorities can't see any more.

"I'm not going to play politics with this issue," he added.

Mr Burnham said he had "outlined" his approach to party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

He called for the Government to "ensure that judges have the final say" on the most intrusive warrants.

Former director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer said there was a "strong case" for a new law but demanded judicial oversight.

The Labour MP told BBC One's Sunday Politics: "It is really a chance now for all of us to agree a framework for the future that is on the one hand giving the authorities powers they need but on the other hand entrenching in law the right safeguards, and judicial oversight is really important in that."

Plans for a t wo tier system that divides responsibility for warrants between the Home Secretary and judges have been mooted.

But Mr Starmer said: "I'm not in favour of a two tier system. I think if you are going to go for contents we should go to a judge straight off."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown said Mrs May's comments indicated that the worst aspects of the previous "snooper's charter" had been diminished.

But he warned that if the Bill imposes blanket surveillance and does not have judicial oversight built in, the Lib Dems will seek to amend it in the Lords.

He told Sky News's Murnaghan programme: "Some of the worst aspects of that have now been diminished, this is a power exercised not against a class of people but on single individuals, based on an evidence base, and subject to judicial oversight.

"Those are the key three principles, they are the principles we used in the era of the steaming kettle.

"if those principles have been preserved in this Bill, I think the Bill looks to me as though it will be far, far better than many imagined it would be.

"But if it isn't then we will use the House of Lords to ensure that it is, let me assure you of that."

Lord Ashdown said it was right for the Lords to try and improve the Bill as the Commons would always win out in a battle of parliamentary "ping pong" between the two chambers.

He said: "In the first stage we (the Lords) are a reforming chamber and this is precisely, constitutionally, the kind of Bill within which we should be intervening if indeed the legislation is deficient.

"So there isn't a constitutional issue about this, there may be about the other (tax credits), but there isn't about this and you may be sure we will exercise those powers within the House of Lords as a whole - Lib Dems are part of it, crossbenchers and others, to ensure that we fulfil our proper constitutional function."

Conservative David Davis said oversight must not be left in the hands of the Home Secretary.

The former shadow home secretary told the Sunday Politics programme: "It's got to be independent and it's got to be, ideally, judicially overseen.

"It can't be the policeman in the office next door or a spook in the office next door and it can't be the Home Secretary. It's got to be independent."

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "If the authorities need a judge's warrant before they search my home, why not before the equal or greater intrusion of accessing my private communications?

"This happens all over the free world including in the US. Nothing short of this fundamental safeguard should comfort the public or Parliament that this much-anticipated new Bill is an improvement on the past."

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