Northern Ireland

Government e-mail access move 'is snoopers' charter'

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The government has unveiled plans to ensure intelligence services can get access to information about e-mails and other communications.

The aim is to ensure internet providers keep records of the time and address of an e-mail for a year.

The government said it was about safeguarding society from criminals such as paedophiles or terrorists.

However, critics have described it as "a snooper's charter".

In the Queen's speech, it was stated that this data would be gathered under strict safeguards.

Critics, however, are not convinced.

The SDLP's Margaret Ritchie said her party would fight the bill.

"We in the SDLP will be totally opposed to it because we were opposed to infringement of civil liberties back at the time of the civil rights movement, back at the time of emergency powers legislation and we do not want a modern day technological version of that."

The DUP is also watching the bill closely.


DUP MP Ian Paisley outlined his concerns, likening the government's plans to an Orwellian novel.

"Many years ago I read George Orwell's 1984 and the idea of Big Brother and snooping has now been made a complete and total reality if this sort of thing was allowed to take place where everyone's piece of personal data - everyone's email to their granny or to their friend - would suddenly be of interest to the government," he said.

"I just think it is ludicrous."

Belfast Conservative Bill Manwaring said the government was updating legislation and pointed out that warrants were required to access the content of an email or phone call.

He said this was about fighting crime and terrorism.

"This legislation will allow our intelligence services to access information that is going to save people's lives," Mr Manwaring said.

"It's not about finding out what site you visited or who you have emailed. It's about targeting known terrorists, suspected activists who are trying to cause serious damage to our society."

'Too much invasion'

Shoppers in Belfast's Donegall Place had mixed views.

"I think there is far too much invasion - everywhere we look," said one woman.

"No, I wouldn't be happy with that at all."

But some favoured the move. One man said that if properly managed, the new law would be useful.

"It's a good way to investigate crime. If there is information out there that will help solve a crime, then use it," he said.

Daniel Holder, deputy director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, said the bill was "very worrying".

He claimed the bill was about mass surveillance and unfettered access to personal data.

"These are plans that have been put out and dumped before and it goes well beyond the intelligence services and police services," he said.

"A range of other public authorities would have access to that.

"It's very worrying. I know there is always that common cliché out there that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.

"But that's a phrase I'm afraid that's much more associated when you look at it from a human rights perspective, with less democratic societies.

"I think General Pinochet was rather fond of that phrase."

Mr Paisley said he expected to speak on the bill later as more details emerge.