Nick Clegg: No 'web snooping' bill while Lib Dems in government

A person using a computer The draft Communications Data Bill has been sent "back to the drawing board"

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Home Office plans to store details of Britons' online activity will not happen while the Liberal Democrats are in government, Nick Clegg has said.

The deputy prime minister told his weekly LBC radio phone-in that "what people have dubbed the snooper's charter" was "not going to happen".

There had been reports a redrafted bill, with concessions to win over Lib Dems, might be in the Queen's Speech.

But Downing Street said discussions continued about "the next steps".

The prime minister's official spokesman said the reality was that technological change had not gone away and, while it was a sensitive issue, action was needed "to respond to those changes".

Mr Clegg said he would be willing to accept changes to take account of new technology - such as ensuring each mobile device had its own unique IP address.

But, he said: "What people have dubbed the snooper's charter - I have to be clear with you, that's not going to happen.

"In other words the idea that the government will pass a law which means there will be a record kept of every website you visit, who you communicate with on social media sites, that's not going to happen.

"It's certainly not going to happen with Liberal Democrats in government."

"We all committed ourselves at the beginning of this coalition to learn the lessons from the past, when Labour overdid it, trying to constantly keep tabs on everyone. We have a commitment in this Coalition Agreement to end the storage of internet information unless there is a very good reason to do so."

He said he did not believe that people backed the idea of a "treasure trove of data which you can then dip into if you need to", and said there were doubts whether it was even technically feasible.

Lib Dem president Tim Farron tweeted that his party had "killed the Snooper Charter" and was "standing up for civil liberties & freedom of speech".

There was no immediate response from the Home Office.

The draft Communications Data Bill was sent "back to the drawing board" in December after scathing criticism from a joint committee of MPs and peers.

The plans in the draft bill included:

  • Internet service providers having to store for a year all details of online communication in the UK - such as the time, duration, originator and recipient of a communication and the location of the device from which it was made.
  • They would also be having to store for the first time all Britons' web browsing history and details of messages sent on social media, webmail, voice calls over the internet and gaming, in addition to emails and phone calls
  • Police not having to seek permission to access details of these communications, if investigating a crime
  • Police having to get a warrant from the home secretary to be able to see the actual content of any messages
  • Four bodies having access to data: the police, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the intelligence agencies and HM Revenue and Customs

The MPs and peers added that the draft bill paid "insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy" and went "much further than it need or should for the purpose of providing necessary and justifiable official access to communications data".

Home Secretary Theresa May insisted the proposed changes were vital for countering paedophiles, extremists and fraudsters.

The home secretary wants the bill in place next year. She said the measures would help modernise crime-fighting laws, to combat criminals' use of internet-based phone calls and things like instant messaging and social media sites like Facebook.

The draft Communications Data Bill was the latest in a long-running series of attempts by the Home Office to change the law to allow greater monitoring - or access to - online activity in the UK.

The plan initially suggested when Labour was in government was for a giant database to store the details of all mobile phone calls and internet traffic, such as who called who, or who emailed who when, but not the content of the phone calls or emails.

Privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch welcomed Mr Clegg's announcement.

Deputy director Emma Carr said: "Last year Skype gave British police more data than any other government, including the USA. To say that the police can't get data from the internet without this bill is simply wrong.

"Where security or child safety is at risk, companies already comply with police requests and there was a real risk this bill would make the situation worse by driving dangerous people underground into encrypted services.

"Recording the websites we look at and who we email would not have made us safer... it would have made Britain a less attractive place to start a company and put British companies in the position of being paid by the government to spy on their customers."

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