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Snoopers Charter is for 'incompetent criminals, accidental anarchists'

Data chief says gov spynet would snare only dunderheads

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The Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has characterised the Home Office's proposed law to massively increase surveillance of the internet in the UK as one that would only be capable of capturing stupid criminals.

Graham told a committee of MPs and peers on Tuesday that the draft Communications Data Bill as it stands would only put a stop to "the incompetent criminal and the accidental anarchist".

The information chief said he was yet to have a conversation with the Home Office about Theresa May's planned legislation to give spooks and police greater access to comms data.

At this stage, he said, it is not even clear to him what the bill means by the term Communication Service Providers (CSPs). He said he fully expected the six big telcos – Virgin Media, BT, BSkyB, Orange, O2 and TalkTalk, who together service some 95 per cent of netizens in the UK – would fall under the CSP banner. But he asked: "What of the other 5 per cent?"

He added that an international terrorist, for example, would simply avoid accessing the web via the big six providers when operating within Britain to avoid detection from government spooks.

Graham also expressed concerns about the costs to his office of overseeing any such law and described the issue as "chicken and egg" because he was yet to be fully briefed by the Home Office on the details of the bill. He said it was clear, though, that the ICO would need more powers and resources to make that happen.

The commissioner kept returning to the same point that many others have made to parliamentarians perusing the bill, saying: "We've got a proposition but no detail."

He noted that the so-called Snoopers Charter wasn't new to the Coalition and provided some colour by explaining an exchange he had with then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith in 2009 when he first became the Information Commissioner.

The data chief said that before he had even started his post, Smith had written a letter to Graham urging him to recognise the importance of the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), which was shelved by New Labour in the face of massive opposition – including from the Tories and LibDems.

Graham also told peers and MPs at the committee hearing - when asked about jurisdiction stumbling blocks relating to foreign outfits that operate in the UK - that Google and Facebook were both good at conducting "grown-up" discussions about data protection and privacy. ®

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