‘Snooper’s charter’ debate: UK bill's author draws down MPs over opposition
Home Secretary Theresa May, who proposed the Draft Communications Data Bill in this June, accused those of being “against this bill” of “putting politics before peoples' lives.”
“Criminals, terrorists and pedophiles will want MPs to vote against this bill. Victims of crime, police and the public will want them to vote for it. It’s a question of whose side you’re on,” she told The Sun.
The seed of the discord is the bill, which critics have dubbed a “snooper's charter” – if adopted, it would force British communication companies to keep records of all their customers' contact data.
Such a move would essentially turn law enforces into Big Brothers, as they would be able to find out who talks with whom, as well as when and where.
The legislation would affect email, social network exchanges, Skype conversations and other forms of communication. The recording would not include the contents of the communications, though.
The bill would also allow analysis of Internet traffic and the breaking of encrypted communications for those companies operating outside of British jurisdiction, or those that do not cooperate with the government.
While proponents of the bill say it is necessary to allow police to cope with new communication technologies, critics see it as a threat to privacy – and waste of money, as the program would cost an estimated $2.9 billion over a decade.
May argued: “It is not snooping. It is absolutely not government wanting to read everybody’s emails — we will not be looking at every webpage everybody has looked at.”
As for now, police and intelligence services can get access to information about mobile phone use, whereas there is no policy on Internet data access. It can only be retained by providers.
The rhetoric of May’s statement is apparently aimed at Liberal Democrat opposition to the bill and the party's parliamentary leader Nick Clegg. Clegg asked for the draft bill to be scrutinized by a Joint Committee before it is submitted to Parliament.
Earlier, British media reported that Clegg had plans to kill the bill following the Joint Committee report, which is set to be completed next week.
Moreover, The Sun reported Saturday that Clegg had tried to delay the Communications Data Bill until at least 2014, infuriating MI5 and police chiefs.
The secretary’s stance drew response from Conservative opponents of the legislation too. David Davis lashed out at May at a House session, saying she was interfering with MPs' work.
“Apart from traducing a large number of Members of this House, the Home Secretary is undermining the work of [the Joint] Committee. Has she asked to come to the House to explain herself, and if not, what can you do to protect us, Mr Speaker?” he said.
Nick Pickles, who directs Big Brother Watch, a British civil liberties group, says “it is blatantly ridiculous” to divide people into such categories.
Big Brother Watch's latest report, published Tuesday, shows “how little support the Home Office’s draft Communications Data Bill has.”
“If you are looking for a needle in a haystack, you don’t solve the problem by adding a lot more hay,” Pickles told RT. “We should have new powers, but they should be used against individuals in known operations. What this bill proposes is that everybody’s behavior in the country is monitored and we are all treated as suspects.”