Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee says government snooping bill is dangerous

Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee criticises plans to allow security services to spy on internet users' e-mails, phone calls and internet browsing habits

The UK government's plans to allow security and police services to spy on e-mails, phone calls and internet browsing habits are dangerous, according to World Wide Web inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Home secretary Theresa May claims the powers will help track terrorists and paedophiles, but Berners-Lee said the planned extension of the state's surveillance powers would lead to a destruction of human rights.

After the initial outcry over the plans, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the government's snooping plans would be published only as a draft, indicating they may not be included in the Queen's Speech in May as initially expected, but will instead be subjected to further scrutiny.

Berners-Lee warned the plans would make a large amount of intimate information vulnerable to theft or release by corrupt officials. He warned the information could be used to blackmail people in the government or the military.

"The amount of control you have over somebody if you can monitor internet activity is amazing," Berners-Lee told the Guardian.

"You get to know every detail, you get to know, in a way, more intimate details about their life than any person they talk to."

Berners-Lee said that if the government believed it was essential to collect this kind of sensitive data, it would have to establish a "very strong independent body" to investigate every use of the surveillance powers, to establish whether the target did pose a threat and whether the intrusion had produced valuable evidence.

But since the government had not set out any oversight regime – or explained how the data could be safely stored – "the most important thing to do is to stop the bill," Berners-Lee said.

The proposed legislation has drawn strong criticism from civil liberties groups that have raised concerns that the changes could lead to blanket surveillance of the entire UK population.

MPs from across the political spectrum have raised concerns about how much the data storage will cost taxpayers and what levels of authority will be needed to access information on individuals.

Internet service providers are concerned the proposals will be pushed through without consultation, leaving them with a costly and technically difficult task of providing the data.

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