The UK government has abandoned plans to introduce its controversial Communications Data Bill, better known as the “snooper's charter,” which would have given security services sweeping powers to monitor internet activity.
Speaking on his weekly LBC radio programme, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said that the bill is “not workable nor proportionate,” and that “it certainly isn't going to happen with Liberal Democrats in government”.
He said that the coalition has a commitment to “end the storage of internet information unless there is a very good reason to do so,” adding that it does not intend to repeat the mistakes of the Labour government by “trying to constantly keep tabs on everyone”.
The second draft of the Bill was originally due for publication at the end of February, but was then pushed back to the end of March, and most recently the Home Office suggested that it would be included in the Queen's Speech on 8 May.
The initial draft, which was published in June 2012, proposed that Communications Service Providers should store all details of online communication in the UK – including the time, duration, originator and recipient of a communication and the location of the device from which it was made – for 12 months.
This would include, for the first time, details of messages sent on social media, webmail, voice calls over the internet and gaming, in addition to emails and phone calls.
The police, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the intelligence agencies and HM Revenue and Customs would all have been able to access this data without the permission of a judge, as long as they were investigating a crime or protecting national security. They would also be able to see the actual content of any messages by obtaining a warrant from the home secretary.
“Nick Clegg has made the right decision for our economy, for internet security and for our freedom,” said campaign group Big Brother Watch in a blog post.
“Rather than spending billions on another Whitehall IT disaster that tramples over our civil liberties and privacy on an unprecedented scale, we should focus on ensuring the police have the skills and training to make use of the huge volume of data that is available.”
Downing Street said that discussions were still continuing over the plan. “The reality is that the technology changes fast and that issue has not gone away. There are sensitive issues around this; discussions are continuing on how progress is to be made,” it told the Financial Times.
Clegg said he would be willing to accept minor changes to take account of new technology – such as ensuring each mobile device has its own unique IP address – but no more.
“This is great news. We expect the coalition to stick to their promise,” said Jim Killock, Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, promising to look closely in case broad powers are still proposed.