POLITICS

Theresa May Says Spies Won't Look At Internet Browsing History As Home Secretary To Water-Down 'Snooper's Charter'

01/11/2015 11:36 GMT | Updated 02/11/2015 10:59 GMT

Theresa May has pledged not to let spies look through someone's internet history under the Home Secretary's new-look surveillance legislation.

Speaking on BBC's The Marr Show this morning, Mrs May dismissed that the latest version of the Investigatory Powers Bill would not represent a "Snooper's Charter".

Terrorist-chasing MI5 and GCHQ chiefs want to be able to trawl through internet and mobile data but have faced resistance from civil liberty campaigners.

A new version of the controversial bill will get its draft publication in Parliament on Wednesday after original attempts were blocked by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition Government in 2012.

Mrs May today said the most "contentious" issues had been cut from the legislation, though spooks will still be able to know who people contacted on social media sites including Facebook and WhatsApp under the most basic warrant.

But she refused to say whether judges would have to sign-off a second warrant for the most intrusive aspects of spy investigations - namely reading the content of emails and social media messages - suggesting politicians would have the final say.

"We will not be giving powers to go through people's browsing history," she told the BBC.

However, eavesdropping would be permitted for the "first step" of communications, she said, effectively who contacted who and when.

She explained: "Did this device access WhatsApp, perhaps at ten past one? On Facebook at five minutes past two. It won't go beyond that."

The independent Anderson review of terror legislation called for judges to be given oversight when granting warrants for the most "intrusive" interception powers.

But Mrs May appeared cool on the idea, arguing three reviews said the powers were "necessary" but all "came out with different answers in relation to the issuing of warrants".

"I will be explaining the Government's position to Parliament this week. What I am clear about is there will be in this Bill strong oversight and authorisation arrangements," she said.

Among the proposals are:

  • Internet companies will have to hold data for 12 months on when people visited sites or sent emails;
  • “World-leading oversight”, though Ms May refused to be drawn on whether it would remain the job of the Home Secretary to authorise warrants, rather than judges;
  • Encryption will be allowed, but the Government wants internet companies to hand over the content of communications when a warrant is granted;
  • Service providers will not have to keep data from foreign-based sites.

Labour's Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham said told Sky News' Murnaghan later that the Opposition backed the overall principle but insisted on judicial oversight of warrants.

"I am saying quite clearly we should accept the recommendations of the Anderson report - the Government's independent reviewer of counter terrorism legislation - and we should ensure that judges have the final say on the most intrusive warrants," he argued.