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Parliament slams plan to scoop up more data

February 12, 2016

The British government's bill calling for far-reaching data collection powers gets slammed in parliament. Critics say it would be most intrusive collection regime among Western democracies.

Wachsende Gefahr von Hacker-Angriffen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The British government's latest legislative attempt to sweep up Internet data has been slammed by a parliamentary committee as "inconsistent and largely incomprehensible."

The British government presented a bill that would force tech companies to store details of every website people visited over the course for a year, and would expand intelligence agencies' ability to collect bulk data and hack into individuals' electronic devices.

Lawmakers in Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee examining the bill, known as the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, said that in principle they support the proposal but recommended 86 changes to the existing text.

"We think part of it is flawed and part of it needs to be looked at in greater detail," Paul Murphy, the committee chairman, told reporters.

Tech giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook oppose the plan, which some say would give Britain the most far-reaching and invasive data collection capabilities of any Western democracy.

Another parliamentary committee said the bill goes too far in invading people's privacy and empowering intelligence agencies.

Forcing Internet service providers to store "Internet connection records" (ICRs) for a year, would allow authorities to see which sites people visited, but not the specific pages or their full browsing history.

But the practicalities, costs and security issues of storing all this data were deemed unfeasible under the current plan.

MPs reject government's goal

The report rejected the government's goal of gaining access to every dark space on the Internet and effectively rendering encrypted data obsolete. Firms offering end-to-end encrypted communication should not be forced to provide access or decrypted copies to the authorities.

In addition, tech companies have said that breaking their encryption services would weaken their own security measures.

Fears of governments' mass surveillance capabilities came into stark relief after former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden blew the whistle in 2013 on US data collection at the US National Security Agency.

Symbolbild USA Prism NSA Abhörskandal
Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the secret US surveillance program known as PRISMImage: imago/McPHOTO

His revelations threw a wrench into the plans of Western governments seeking to expand their data collecting capabilities for intelligence agencies and police.

Citing Snowden's revelations, and the already considerable collection capabilities of US and British intelligence agencies, the legislators said "it is surprising that the protection of people's privacy ... doesn't feature more prominently" in the proposed legislation.

Sarah St. Vincent from the Center for Democracy & Technology, a Washington-based group advocating for Internet freedom, called the proposed measures alarming.

"Everyone in the UK" St. Vincent said, "in fact, everyone around the world, given the global extent of many of the powers the UK government would have under the bill, needs to be worried about this legislation."

bik/sms (Reuters, AP)