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Deputy PM: Rip up Snoop Charter, 'go back to the drawing board'

Bruised Home Sec admits she'll 'accept the substance' of gripes against net spy law

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Home Secretary Theresa May said she will "accept the substance of recommendations" for her draft surveillance law after the Deputy Prime Minister told her to rewrite it - and a parliamentary report slammed it as "suspicious" and "too sweeping".

A joint select committee of MPs and peers, in a report published this morning, urged the Home Office to rip up many aspects of May's "Snoopers' Charter", which proposed granting cops and spooks powers to monitor citizens online to combat paedophiles and terrorists.

The panel suggested May start again by listening to telcos, civil liberty campaigners and police bodies.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also waded in, saying the Tory-led coalition government - of which his Lib Dem party is the junior member - needed to have a "fundamental rethink" about the proposed legislation.

"We cannot proceed with this bill and we have to go back to the drawing board," Clegg said. He echoed the joint committee's criticism of the bill by highlighting its wide-ranging scope, the £1.8bn price tag, the need for wider consultation and the apparent lack of appropriate safeguards.

The deputy PM added:

The committee did not, however, suggest that nothing needs to be done. They were very clear that there is a problem that must be addressed to give law enforcement agencies the powers they need to fight crime. I agree.

But that must be done in a proportionate way that gets the balance between security and liberty right. Any modernisation of the powers, including possible new legislation, must meet the concerns of the joint committee by having the best possible safeguards and keeping costs under control.

In a preemptive move against her critics, May today took to the pages of The Sun, where she has repeatedly sought the support of the tabloid's readership for the proposed new law, to repeat her warning that child abusers and terrorists could "plot horrific crimes" online if they are not curtailed by the authorities monitoring web activity.

"We must not get left behind. You and your loved ones have the right to expect the government to protect you from harm," she pleaded, before conceding:

Politicians from all parties have agreed that new laws are needed to help the police keep pace with changing technology. Parliament has made suggestions about how our plans could be improved and we will accept the substance of its recommendations.

May claimed - despite what is now a major setback for her plans to massively increase the surveillance of people using the web and other communication technologies - that she would "not allow these vitally important laws to be delayed any longer in this Parliament".

But her proposal has now been derailed by parliamentarians who all agreed that May's draft bill needed reeling in.

Malcolm Hutty of the London Internet Exchange (LINX) said that "any new legislation must be much more tightly scoped" and added that LINX "look forward to working with the Home Office on developing proportionate requirements for communications data storage and access". ®

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