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UK lawmakers criticise surveillance bill over privacy concerns

Reuters , Tuesday 9 Feb 2016
David Cameron
British Prime Minister David Cameron January 29, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)
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A planned British law to give spies and the police wide-ranging new surveillance powers is rushed, does not do enough to protect people's privacy and requires major change, a powerful committee of lawmakers said on Tuesday.

The bill was unveiled in November after police and intelligence agencies warned they had fallen behind those they were trying to track, as advances in technology and the growth of services like Skype and Facebook increasingly put criminals beyond their reach.

Critics say the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill would be the West's furthest-reaching surveillance law, while tech companies have warned it would damage their own security systems.

It would force communications firms to collect and store vast reams of data about almost every click of British online activity. The bill would also oblige service providers to help intercept data and hack suspects' devices.

"Overall, the privacy protections are inconsistent and in our view need strengthening," parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) said in a report.

"The draft bill appears to have suffered from a lack of sufficient time and preparation," it added, saying the bill adopted a "rather piecemeal approach" to privacy protection which it said should have formed the backbone to the measure.

Debate about how to protect privacy while helping agencies operate in the digital age has raged since former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked details of mass surveillance by British and U.S. spies in 2013.

The British bill, which comes before parliament later this year, is being watched closely by governments and tech companies around the world.

Another parliamentary committee, set up specifically to scrutinise all aspects of the proposed bill such as its impact on encryption, is due to give its conclusions on Thursday.

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokeswoman told reporters: "We will look at these reports and study them before looking again at our draft legislation and then coming forward with our final proposals."

TechUK, a trade body representing more than 850 firms, said the intelligence committee had highlighted valid concerns.

"Today's report ... again makes it clear that the Investigatory Powers Bill lacks clarity on fundamental issues, such as core definitions of key terms, encryption and equipment interference," said Antony Walker, techUK's deputy chief executive.

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