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Snoopers' Charter un-British: Clegg

Nick Clegg has dismissed fresh pressure for a revival of the so-called Snoopers' Charter - but insisted he backs other measures to bolster the online capabilities of the security services.

The Liberal Democrat leader branded the proposals, which David Cameron has pledged to revive if he is in power after the election, "un-British" and ineffective.

The comments, in an interview on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, came as the former director of MI5 warned anti-terrorism laws are "no longer fit for purpose".

Lord Evans of Weardale said it is "much harder" than a decade ago for the authorities to access communications between terrorists and criminals, because they are discussing plots on platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat.

Mr Clegg said he agreed with Lord Evans and the police that the state needs to "retain the ability to intrude on the privacy" of such people.

But he said he is "uncomfortable" with the idea of retaining data about internet and social media use by "every single man woman and child in this country for a year".

"It is a blanket approach to the retention of data of people who are innocent of any wrongdoing whatsoever," he said.

"It is not a very British thing to confer or imply guilt on the whole of the nation by retaining records of every website everyone has visited over the course of a year."

Mr Clegg said the Snoopers' Charter plans were "unproven, clunky, resource intensive".

He went on: "Lots of experts looked at it and said this is a waste of resources, a waste of time. Why are we keeping records of every man, woman and child across the country when for starters, we tend to know where to look for the people who want to do us harm?"

The Deputy Prime Minister said the aim was to "find the needle without inferring guilt on the haystack".

"New powers will need to be put on the statute book in the next parliament, and I will advocate them as much as any chisel-faced securocrat," he went on.

"I want to keep us safe. It's ludicrous this idea that people who care about our freedom don't care about our safety.

"What I will not do... is saying that every single man, woman and child should have data about what they get up to online kept for a year."

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, which oversees MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, said: "If, as we all accept, the problem is international jihadi terrorism, how do international terrorists communicate with each other? They communicate by the internet, by email, by social messaging."

He told the Sunday Telegraph: "Neither MI6 nor MI5 nor GCHQ can retain indefinitely large amounts of information. What we think they ought to be able to do if they get a warrant from the secretary of state, or the relevant permission that is required, is get access to it, on a case-by-case basis."

In his article in the same newspaper, Lord Evans wrote: "The ability of the police and security agencies to do this important work of protecting our society and its vulnerable people is under threat from changing technology.

"We expect them today not just to follow up a crime or terrorist attack and identify the perpetrators but rather to do all they can to stop the attack or crime from taking place at all.

"They can only do this if they have the tools to do so and the tools at their disposal are no longer fit for purpose."

Lord Evans warned that the security agencies' work had been made more difficult since Edward Snowden's revelations about the mass surveillance activities of the US National Security Agency.

"The terrorists and criminals now know enough about interception capabilities to avoid scrutiny, while internet and communications providers are reluctant to help the authorities as much as they did in case they suffer commercial disadvantage or media criticism," he wrote.

"What this means in stark terms is that if you are abusing a child or planning a terrorist attack, you are more likely to be able to avoid the attention of the police or security agencies today than would have been the case a few years ago.

"Increasing areas of digital communications are beyond the reach of law enforcement and they are being exploited by those who wish us ill.

"It is imperative that the laws that govern this issue are brought up to date. If nothing is done things will not stand still, they will get worse.

"The purpose of new legislation on this issue would not be to extend interception and monitoring more widely, it is to maintain the capabilities we have had as a nation for many years but that are threatened by rapid change."

During his two-day visit to the US last week, Mr Cameron urged President Barack Obama to support tougher requirements for internet firms to alert authorities to suspicious online exchanges, ban encrypted communications and store data.

A report last year into the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby concluded Facebook failed to pass on information that could have prevented his death.

The American firm had previously shut down accounts belonging to one of the killers, Michael Adebowale, because he had discussed terrorism - but did not raise concerns with the security services.

But Mr Obama stopped short of making any commitment on the issue, insisting there should not be a rush to sweep away civil liberties. "I don't think that there is a situation in which because things are so much more dangerous the pendulum needs to swing," he said.

"What we have to find is a consistent framework whereby our publics have confidence that their government can both protect them but not abuse our capacity to operate in cyber space."

The president added: "It is useful to have civil libertarians and others tapping us on the shoulder in this process and reminding us that there are values at stake as well...

"We shouldn't feel as if because we've just seen such a horrific attack in Paris, that suddenly everything should be going by the wayside."

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told Murnaghan on Sky News: "I'm quite surprised that this very modest proposal whereby we can look at records going back a year but only on application can we do that, I don't feel my freedom is in any way impinged by doing that."


From Belfast Telegraph