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British ‘snoopers’ charter’ under revision amid harsh criticism

British ‘snoopers’ charter’ under revision amid harsh criticism
The UK draft Communications Data bill that could allow the government to keep tabs on emails and Skype is being reviewed after a wave of criticism. The opposition has slammed the law as potentially disastrous and an affront to personal privacies.

The legislation is currently being revised by a commission of MPs after a torrent of criticism over the scope of the law. The prime minister received a letter from cyber security experts on Monday, calling the bill overly expensive with the potential to stifle innovation and undermine personal privacies, reported the Times.

"As a society, it would be stupid to build the infrastructure that could be used to oppress us,” Ben Hammersley, a Number 10 Downing Street tech advisor, told Tank Magazine. “The fact that we don’t know who is going to be in charge in 10 years’ time means that we shouldn’t give them free toys to play with."

The draft bill has been championed by Home Secretary Theresa May, who described it as vital in combating pedophiles, fraudsters and extremists. However, civil liberties groups condemn the legislation as a step too far and have branded it as a “snoopers’ charter.”

When the bill initially emerged in June of last year, Hammersley spoke out against it in a podcast, describing it as laughable and comparable to draconian web regulations in North Korea.

Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also threatened to block the bill if dramatic changes were not made, calling on lawmakers to go back to the drawing board.

The plans outlined in the bill would oblige internet providers to store web browsing history, details of messages sent over social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter and voice calls made over the web. The legislation stipulates that this information should be retained for a year and would allow police access to it without asking permission if they are investigating a crime.

The MP commission charged with reviewing the legislation pledged to consult with "technical experts, industry, law enforcement bodies, public authorities and civil liberties groups.”

However a number of groups, including the Liberty and Open Rights group, Big Brother Watch and Privacy International, have written to the UK Home Office to complain that they have not been consulted. In a letter to the Home Secretary Theresa May they said that the revision of the bill was “unnecessarily closed.”

The controversial legislation has seen the UK’s coalition government divided and is likely to continue to be a bone of contention until the wording of the bill is sufficiently refined.

The anticipated cost of the draft bill currently stands at 1.8 billion pounds (US$2.7 billion) and if the law is passed by parliament it will come into effect in 2014.