Government retreats on digital ‘Big Brother’ plan

Wednesday, April 4, 2012
By Paul Martin

Home Secretary accused of mishandling surveillance proposals

Nigel Morris
Wednesday 04 April 2012

Plans to allow the authorities to monitor the online activity of every person in Britain were pushed back last night after being condemned by MPs of all parties.

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, announced that the contentious measures would be published only in draft form and would be subject to widespread consultation – concessions that could delay the proposals for at least a year. In a letter to Mr Clegg published in The Independent today, 17 Liberal Democrat MPs welcomed his intervention but warned him their support could not be taken for granted on the issue.

A storm erupted this week after it emerged that legislation to allow the police, intelligence services, councils and other public bodies to obtain details of messages sent via Skype and social networks would be included in the Queen’s Speech.

The disclosure provoked anger among Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs alike, who warned that the proposals contradicted the parties’ opposition to a similar Labour scheme – and were not included in the Coalition Agreement. There have also been recriminations within the Coalition as Liberal Democrats – understood to have been backed by some Tory ministers – accused Theresa May, the Home Secretary, of mishandling the issue.

Mr Clegg told the BBC yesterday that the most contentious parts of the legislation would be published in draft form to enable “proper scrutiny and examination and stress-testing”. He said the Government would “consult and think whether existing powers are sufficient”, adding: “People should be reassured we will not ram something through Parliament.”

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