Government's 900-Page 'Snoopers' Charter' Shows 'Complete Disregard' For Democracy

Home Secretary Theresa May:
Home Secretary Theresa May:
EMMANUEL DUNAND via Getty Images

The Government has shown “a complete disregard” for Parliament by publishing a ‘snoopers’ charter’ that gives authorities extra surveillance powers buried within 900 pages of documents.

Home Secretary Theresa May today revealed the new Investigatory Powers Bill will allow the police to look into all of everyone's internet browsing history - despite suggesting people’s privacy would get increased protection.

The draft Bill in an earlier form had been criticised by three parliamentary committees for handing far-reaching powers to the state and being so incomprehensible even its authors could not explain it.

Critics warned the Bill, which includes 628 pages of codes of practice and overarching documents and 258 pages of the legislation itself, showed a “complete disregard for the process of parliamentary scrutiny”.

The civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch said ministers were “squandering a golden opportunity” by putting out “hundreds of pages of clauses and codes of practice” that MPs would struggle to analyse.

Another group, Liberty, warned "minor Botox" had not fixed the proposed laws.

MPs will debate the Bill in the House of Commons tomorrow against expectations it will pass on to the statute books by the end of the year.

Renate Samson, chief executive of Big Brother Watch, said: “Surveillance is no longer a niche issue.

“In a connected world, where everyone is a digital citizen, these powers will impact us all.

“This Bill, and the manner in which it is being rushed, fails to provide time for MPs who will be voting for these powers to consider them and understand them properly.”

The Government said the revised Bill:

* Is clearer, with "tighter definitions" and strict codes of practice.

* Explicitly bans agencies from asking foreign intelligence to carry out activities on their behalf unless they have a warrant approved by a Secretary of State and Judicial Commissioner.

* Clarifies the position on encryption, making it clear companies can only be asked to remove encryption that they have applied and only when it is "practicable".

The revamped spying laws will give the police powers to access internet records and hack into suspects' smartphones and computer, and insist internet firms hold on to the browsing histories of all of their users for a year, handing them over to authorities when required to.

Access to internet connection records (ICRs) - which detail services a device connects to but not users' full browsing history or the content of a communication - was limited under the draft version of the proposed legislation. But the revised proposals presented in Parliament state that records should also be available for the pursuit of investigative leads if it is deemed "necessary and proportionate".

The Bill aims to bring myriad surveillance powers under one legal umbrella.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the Liberty campaign group, said: “Less than three weeks ago, MPs advised 123 changes to the majorly flawed draft Bill. The powers were too broad, safeguards too few and crucial investigatory powers entirely missing.

"Minor Botox has not fixed this Bill. Government must return to the drawing board and give this vital, complex task appropriate time. Anything else would show dangerous contempt for parliament, democracy and our country's security."

A cross-party group of MPs and campaigners have today signed a letter in The Telegraph warning the intention to pass the Bill this year is “not in the nation’s interest”.

Among those is Scottish National Party MP Joanna Cherry, the party's justice and home affairs spokesperson in Westminster.

She warned that the Government has taken "insufficient time" to consider the concerns expressed by the three committees.

She said: "Everyone wants to get the balance right between protecting civil liberties, in particular, the right to privacy and data security and giving law enforcement and the intelligence and security services the necessary and proportionate powers to fight serious crime and terrorism, however the Government’s attempt to get this right falls short."

Joanna Cherry: "The Government’s attempt to get this right falls short."

Ms May said: "This is vital legislation and we are determined to get it right. Terrorists and criminals are operating online and we need to ensure the police and security services can keep pace with the modern world and continue to protect the British public from the many serious threats we face."