Snooping bill needs more work, say MPs

The government’s proposed Communications Data Bill needs more work, says a report from the cross-party intelligence and security committee

The government’s proposed Communications Data Bill needs more work, according to a report by the cross-party intelligence and security committee appointed by the prime minister.

The so-called "snooping bill" is aimed at making it easier for security and police services to spy on emails, phone calls and internet activity and has been widely criticised as an assault on civil liberties.

Campaigners believe the proposed changes could lead to blanket surveillance of the entire UK population. The proposals have also drawn criticism from members of the technology industry.

The committee, which has been charged with scrutinising the bill before it is enacted, has raised concerns about “insufficient consultation” with service providers about practical implementation.

The committee also raised concerns about a lack of “coherent communication” about the way in which communications data is used and the safeguards that will be in place.

“These points must be addressed in advance of the bill being introduced,” the report said.

The Home Office claims the proposed changes to the rules on allowing access to communications by security and police services are needed to protect citizens from terrorists and paedophiles.

However, the review committee said that ministers need to give more details on its proposals if the public and Parliament are to be convinced of the necessity of the bill.

Despite these concerns, the committee broadly supports the government's claim that there is a “serious problem which requires action” through updating the rules on the retention of communications data.

"We recognise that changing technology means that the agencies are unable to access all the communications data they need, that the problem is getting worse, and that action is needed now," the committee said.  

The committee noted that while European countries face similar challenges, the EU Data Retention Directive does not impose any obligations on communications service providers to retain data they do not need to hold for business purposes.

“The UK is among countries such as France and Denmark that have therefore chosen to take both a forward-looking and a transparent approach in seeking to introduce new legislation,” the report said.

Nick Pickles, director of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch highlighted that the report recognises there are weaknesses in monitoring people suspected of wrongdoing.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult for ministers to justify monitoring every member of the population instead of developing their ability to monitor people who are under suspicion,” he told the Guardian.

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