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Opposition stalls government e-mail snooping plans

Widespread opposition to government plans to track people's electronic communications has removed any chance their making the statute before the general election.

Almost half of respondents to a public consultation on the Interception Modernisation Programme, the government plan to track people's e-mail and web usage, were opposed to the plans. Of the rest, less than a third voiced support for the specific way in which the government proposed to do the tracking.

Home Office minister David Hanson said, "We will now work with communications service providers and others to develop these proposals, and aim to introduce necessary legislation as soon as possible."

The plans will not now make it into the last raft of legislation before the election, aired in the Queen's speech next week. Opposition had already forced the government to drop plans for one enormous government database of people's communications data. The Conservatives vowed to scrap the scheme if they won the election.

The revised plans, presented for public consultation in April, proposed that telcos should track communications data travelling over their networks. In 221 responses, the exercise found concerns about whether the Interception Modernisation Programme would be technically feasible, a burden for telcos, an invasion of privacy, or lacking oversight and transparency.

The Information Commissioner responded: "The case has yet to be made for the collection and processing of additional communications data for the population as a whole being relevant and not excessive."

Respondents suggested existing legislation might be adequate. But the Home Office said legislation must keep up with changing technology. The Interception Modernisation Programme would change legislation to encompass web chat and web mail.

Fifty nine per cent of respondents, including police and child protection charities, supported the tracking of communications data in principle.

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said, "The big danger in all of this is mission creep."


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