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Privacy crusaders: ISPs in 'conspiracy of silence' over Snoop Charter

They're keeping negotiations with gov PRIVATE!

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Well-known pro-privacy organisations in the UK have accused internet providers of failing to respond sufficiently critically to the government's plans to massively increase surveillance of Brits' online activity.

In a joint letter - penned by individuals representing Privacy International, the Open Rights Group, Big Brother Watch and others - Virgin Media, BT, O2, TalkTalk, BSkyB, Royal Mail and Zen Internet were slammed for agreeing to "secret" meetings with the Home Office to discuss the draft Communications Data Bill.

The missive alleged that the parties concerned had been "co-opted as an arm of the state to monitor every single one of your customers" and warned that such an apparent move was "a dangerous step, exacerbated by your silence".

It added that no public consultation had taken place about Home Secretary Theresa May's highly contentious bill - which is colloquially dubbed a Snooper's Charter.

But budget ISP TalkTalk was quick to dismiss the complaint. The company said:

Any issues with the government process for comment or consultation is a matter for government and should be taken up with them. Frankly it is wholly incorrect to suggest that ISPs are in a conspiracy with the Home Office.

We have engaged with government in the process so they can understand the practical implications of their proposals. We have always emphasised the need for consultation, the importance of protecting customers' privacy and that we would only ever act in response to legislation.

Virgin Media, meanwhile, has previously said in evidence submitted to the home affairs select committee - which largely rejected the bill in its current form late last year - that it was "critical that any measures are proportionate and delivered on the basis of reasonable checks and balances to ensure that the legitimate privacy of users is protected."

The Internet Service Provider's Association (ISPA) - the group that represents ISPs throughout the UK - told El Reg that telcos had been "open in their approach" and added that some ISPs had criticised the draft bill in public during Parliamentary hearings last year. "It is for the government to publish its proposals, and when it does, we will examine the new draft bill closely alongside our member, parliamentarians and other stakeholders as part of the open parliamentary scrutiny the bill will receive," ISPA said.

BT decline to comment directly on matter.

It's understood that a rewritten version of May's bill will appear in the Queen's Speech on 8 May.

On Monday, the Information Commissioner's Office confirmed that the Home Office could face legal action over its failure to explain the "Request Filter" system buried in its Communications Data Bill.

The UK's data regulator issued an Information Notice requesting details relating to May's proposed law. The Home Office has 30 days to respond or could risk being in contempt of court. ®

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