Spirit of snoopers’ charter lives on in Queen’s Speech

The draft Communications Data Bill did not make the Queen’s Speech, but there was mention of proposals for investigating cyber crime

The controversial draft Communications Data Bill – dubbed "the Snoopers’ Charter" – did not make the Queen’s Speech, but the government did sneak in a mention of new, potentially controversial proposals on investigating cyber crime.

The Communications Data Bill is aimed at making it easier for security and police services to spy on emails, phone calls and internet activity.

Campaigners have widely criticised the draft bill as an assault on civil liberties, and a report by the cross-party intelligence and security committee, appointed by the prime minister, said the bill needed more work, in a report published in February.

Following the report, it was thought home secretary Theresa May had withdrawn the legislation to make changes in the hope of getting it included in the Queen's Speech, but this was not to be.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said in his weekly LBC radio programme, Call Clegg, that he would accept only minor technical changes to how online activity is currently regulated, but no more.

However, in the Queen’s Speech, it emerged that the government plans to put forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyber space.

The government said it was committed to ensuring law enforcement and intelligence agencies had the powers they need to protect the public and ensure national security.

Skating around the contentious issue of snooping on private communications, the government said these agencies used communications data – the who, when, where and how of a communication, but not its content – to investigate and prosecute serious crimes.

In an attempt to quash the criticism that dogged the draft Communications Data Bill, the government said the new proposals were about keeping the public safe – not “indiscriminately accessing internet data of innocent members of the public”.

The government provided no details of the proposals, but said it was working with services providers to find a way of knowing who used a certain internet protocol (IP) address at a given point in time to identify who actually sent an email or made a Skype call under investigation.

“This may involve legislation,” the government said, indicating that it is determined to give law enforcement the powers they need to investigate the activities of criminals online, and that claims of victory by civil liberties groups may have been premature.

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