UK Govt publishes revised ‘snoopers charter’

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The Government has watered-down its proposed "snoopers charter" following public concerns about widespread access to phone, email and Internet records.

Last summer, the UK government unveiled sweeping extensions to its snooping powers with plans to widen the list of authorities which could demand access to phone, Internet and email records.

The proposals caused an outcry - and a swift about-turn from the Government.

Today, it published revised proposals which the Government claims "strikes a better balance" between the privacy of the citizen and the need to investigate crime and protect the public.

The new proposals revise the access and type of information available to public bodies, as well as providing increased scrutiny of such requests.

In particular, the Government is proposing that access to certain types of information (such as itemised telephone call records) is granted only after approval by an independent third party, such as the Interception of Communications Commissioner.

It is also planning to restrict the type of information public authorities are granted access to and intends to limit the reasons why public authorities are granted access to the information.

Said Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth: "We are tailoring the amount of access to the need for it to allay the concerns of members of the public worried about intrusion into their private records.

"In a democratic society there is always a difficult balance to strike between respect for privacy and ensuring crime is tackled effectively. The proposals we are publishing today defend the privacy of the citizen whilst ensuring crimes are investigated and the law of the land is upheld," he said.

The new proposals have been broadly welcomed by the Institute for Public Policy (IPPR), which described them as a "major advance in government thinking".

Said Dr Ian Kearns of the ippr: "The public should feel reassured by the publication of today's Home Office consultation paper...[since it] contains both new limitations on access to traffic data for many public authorities and additional safeguards against
misuse or abuse of communications data.

"Many of those who opposed the so called 'snoopers charter' last summer will be able to read this document and feel that the government has listened and responded to their concerns," he said.

However, the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) still holds a number of reservations. Among them, it believes it is vital that genuine internal controls are put in place to prevent any misuse of the system.

Ian Brown, Director of the FIPR, said: "The Home Office now seems to understand the problems we pointed out with their legislation last summer. They haven't quite got their new proposals right, but this seems to be a genuine consultation and we look forward to helping them improve their plans." ®

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