UK & World News

  • 11 December 2012, 9:22

Snoopers' Charter: Nick Clegg Urges Re-Think

The Government must go back to the drawing board with its plans for new digital surveillance laws, Nick Clegg has told Sky News.

The Deputy Prime Minister said the coalition should have a fundamental rethink about the draft Communications Data Bill, dubbed the Snoopers' Charter by opponents.

He was responding to a critical cross-party report from MPs and peers who studied the proposals and accused the Government of using "fanciful and misleading" figures to justify them.

The Joint Committee also declared that the breadth of the draft bill would be "overkill".

Mr Clegg said: "Their report makes a number of serious criticisms - not least on scope; proportionality; cost; checks and balances; and the need for much wider consultation.

"It is for those reasons that 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."

The Joint Committee questioned the scope of the measures, which would see records kept of all internet and mobile phone communications for 12 months, regardless of whether the individual was suspected of a crime.

Details of emails, internet phone calls and activity on social networking sites would be stored, but not the message content.

Lord Blencathra, who chaired the committee, concluded: "There is a fine but crucial line between allowing our law enforcement and security agencies access to the information they need to protect the country and allowing our citizens to go about their daily business without a fear, however unjustified, that the state is monitoring their every move.

"Whilst the Joint Committee realise that there are specific data types which are not currently available, and which would aid the work of law enforcement bodies and the security services, we are very concerned at how wide the scope of the Bill is in its current form."

The committee also criticised the level of consultation with service providers, who would be required to gather the data, and questioned whether the sums added up.

The report said they expected the overall cost to the taxpayer to exceed the 1.8bn estimate by a "considerable margin", and that the Home Office figure for estimated benefits was "even less reliable".

"The estimated net benefit figure is fanciful and misleading. It ought not to be used to influence parliament in deciding on the relative advantages and disadvantages of this legislation," it said.

Nick Pickles, from the campaign group Big Brother Watch, told Sky News: "The committee has exposed weak evidence, misleading statements and fanciful figures, and unanimously rejected this draft Bill's proposal to monitor everyone's emails, web visits and social media messages.

"The complexity and sensitivity of the subject required a radically different process and a totally different bill."

Home Secretary Theresa May insists the legislation is needed to keep up with advances in technology and bring the law up to date.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We will consider the committees' recommendations carefully, but there can be no delay to this legislation. It is needed by law enforcement agencies now."