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Tory MP in battle with ministers over ‘snooping bill’ safeguards

9 December 2012

10:34 AM

9 December 2012

10:34 AM

Coffee House has learned that a Tory MP is engaged in a fight with the Home Office on safeguards for its proposed ‘snooping bill’.

The fate of the Draft Communications Data Bill could be decided on Tuesday when a cross-party committee reports back on the legislation. Nick Clegg is already reported to be considering dropping the Liberal Democrats’ support for the Bill, and the joint committee’s report is expected to take a negative view of the proposals. One Liberal Democrat member, Lord Strasburger, told Home Secretary Theresa May that the proposals for monitoring internet users’ records were a ‘honeypot for casual hackers, blackmailers, criminals large and small from around the world, and foreign states’.

Part of the government’s justification for the bill rests on filtering arrangements which ministers argue would only return relevant data, rather than information which could then be mined by those on Strasburger’s list. But Conservative MP Dominic Raab, who is deeply concerned about the legislation, is irritated that the government is refusing to provide information on how those filtering arrangements will work in practice. He is appealing to the Information Commissioner’s Office after having a freedom of information request refused by the Home Office.

Raab wants to know what advice ministers have received from officials about how the filtering mechanism would work, what warnings experts have given about the risks to information, and how much the filter would cost.

In his letter to the ICO, seen by Coffee House, Raab writes:

‘As I argued in my letter of 22 October 2012, it cannot be appropriate for all available information regarding how the filtering arrangements under the CCDP will operate in practice to be withheld on the basis of an undefined threat to national security. Parliament and the public cannot reach an informed opinion about such a critical component of the Bill and the CCDP’s viability in the absence of key factual information. There is currently no information available whatsoever about the operation of clauses 14 to 16, or an explanation of whether data mining and deep packet inspection and related techniques will be used.’

Raab is not the only MP in the Conservative party to have concerns about the legislation: his colleague David Davis has made his opposition very clear too, and was furious earlier this week when Home Secretary Theresa May argued that ‘anybody who is against this bill is putting politics before people’s lives’. You can read Nick Cohen’s attack on the Bill in The Spectator here.

If the joint committee rejects the government’s arguments about the safeguards for the legislation, we could well see a split in the House of Commons, not just in the Conservative party, but between the two coalition parties as well. It will be interesting to see how the government handles this new legislative row.

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