UK Politics

Theresa May says internet bill critics 'putting politics before lives'

Computer keyboard and mouse
Image caption Civil liberties campaigners describe the proposals as a "snooper's charter"

Home Secretary Theresa May has warned that those opposing plans to let police monitor all internet use are "putting politics before people's lives".

The draft Communications Data Bill would mean internet providers having to retain records of all their customers' online activity for 12 months.

Mrs May told The Sun the powers would help police tackle serious organised crime, paedophiles, and terrorists.

Critics call it a "snoopers' charter" bill which infringes civil liberties.

At the moment, the police and intelligence services can get access to information about people's mobile phone use.

The bill would extend those powers to cover email and the internet. The authorities would be able to see details of who communicated with whom, and when and where, but they would not be able to see the content of the message.

Police, the security services, the new National Crime Agency and HM Revenue and Customs would be able to access the data, but the draft Communications Data Bill also gives the Home Secretary the power to extend access to others, such as the UK Border Agency.

Mrs May stressed that the proposal was to store the detail of communications - who talked to who in a Skype internet phone call for example - rather than the content of what was said.

"It is absolutely not government wanting to read everybody's emails - we will not be looking at every web page everybody has looked at," she added.

Mrs May said: "People who say they are against this bill need to look victims of serious crime, terrorism and child sex offences in the eye and tell them why they're not prepared to give the police the powers they need to protect the public.

"Anybody who is against this bill is putting politics before people's lives. We would certainly see criminals going free as a result of this."

There are two parliamentary reports due to be published on the draft bill in the next few days.

Lib Dem sources have told the BBC that party leader Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, might use one of the reports - in which MPs and peers are expected to be critical - as "an opportunity to kill the bill for good".

BBC deputy political editor James Landale said that, in its report, the joint committee on the draft Communications Data Bill would argue that:

  • The Home Office has failed to make the case for the new laws, not least by failing to show how the police use existing laws to monitor mobile phone data.
  • The bill infringes civil liberties and invades privacy by allowing the police access to a mass of new data without adequate safeguards. In particular, they will argue that in some internet use - particularly social media sites - it is difficult to distinguish between the details of the communication and the actual content of the message.
  • The measure would damage British businesses by forcing phone companies and internet service providers to store at huge cost for 12 months masses of new data that they would not otherwise keep.
  • The new pool of data would be open to abuse and present a security threat.

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