Data laws are overkill, report says

Andover Advertiser: Plans to give the police extra powers to see emails and web visits are too sweeping, a committee of MPs has warned Plans to give the police extra powers to see emails and web visits are too sweeping, a committee of MPs has warned

The Government has been accused of using "fanciful and misleading" figures to back up its plans to give police and security services new powers to snoop on all emails, web visits and phone calls.

MPs and peers warned the proposed laws, which ministers argue are needed to allow investigators to keep pace with technological developments, go much further than is necessary and amount to overkill.

In a critical report, they called for the draft Communications Data Bill, which will mean internet and phone companies are required to retain records of all communications for a year, to be substantially rewritten.

Home Secretary Theresa May would be given "sweeping powers to issue secret notices" ordering communications companies to disclose "potentially limitless categories of data", the joint committee scrutinising the proposals said.

Ministers argue that proposal, known as clause one, has been kept deliberately wide so it can be "future-proofed". But the committee dismissed the argument and criticised the Government for failing to properly take account of the right to privacy.

Lord Blencathra, who chairs the joint committee scrutinising the Bill, said: "There is a fine but crucial line between allowing our law enforcement and security agencies access to the information they need to protect the country, and allowing our citizens to go about their daily business without a fear, however unjustified, that the state is monitoring their every move," he said.

The report found the Government was using figures to attempt to show that under the reforms spending £1.8 billion over 10 years would recoup three times that amount "when this is not the case". It said the tally was based on police estimates of how many people would be saved in "threat to life" cases and the savings that would generate, including to the criminal justice system.

Writing in The Sun, Mrs May said: "Countries across the world are taking action now to help them track paedophiles and terrorists who abuse new technology to plot their horrific crimes. We must not get left behind. You and your loved ones have the right to expect the Government to protect you from harm.

"Politicians from all parties have agreed that new laws are needed to help the police keep pace with changing technology. Parliament has made suggestions about how our plans could be improved and we will accept the substance of its recommendations. But Sun readers should know that I will not allow these vitally important laws to be delayed any longer in this Parliament. This law is needed and it is needed now. And I am determined to see it through."

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Julian Huppert dismissed Mrs May's support for the Bill and expressed concern about the breadth of the measures. He told BBC Breakfast: "It is very, very dangerous once you start collecting huge amounts of data on literally everybody on the country... that is incredibly dangerous."

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