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Government to rewrite terrifying Web monitoring bill

David Cameron has been forced to go back to the drawing board after MPs strongly criticised the goverment's draft Communications Data Bill.

David Cameron has been forced to go back to the drawing board on the government's draft Communications Data Bill after a committee of MPs and lords strongly criticised the proposed law's snooping powers.

The draft bill would force ISPs and phone networks to create "potentially limitless" records of digital communications -- who contacted whom and when, rather than the contents of those messages -- and enable the police and security services to look through these records whenever they suspected criminal or terrorist activity.

"We believe that the draft Bill pays insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy," the committee said in its report, "and goes much further than it need or should for the purpose of providing necessary and justifiable official access to communications data.

"Law enforcement agencies must be given the tools they need. Reasonable access to some communications data is undoubtedly one of those tools. But the government also have a duty to respect the right of citizens to go about their lawful activities, including their communications, without avoidable intrusions on their privacy."

The prime minister's spokesman told the BBC the bill will be rewritten. "We recognise this is a difficult issue. We will take account of what the committee said."

The committee also had strong words for the government's presentation of the bill. "We criticise the government's estimates of the cost of the Bill and the benefits to be derived from it; some of the figures are fanciful and misleading."

Deputy PM Nick Clegg agreed with the committee's findings. "We cannot proceed with this bill and we have to go back to the drawing board," he told the Beeb. "The committee did not, however, suggest that nothing needs to be done. They were very clear that there is a problem that must be addressed to give law enforcement agencies the powers they need to fight crime. I agree. But that must be done in a proportionate way that gets the balance between security and liberty right."

ISPs currently have no need to record every message sent across their networks -- if PC Plod wants to know what you've been looking at online or who you've been emailing, he needs to access your computer, which requires a court order.

He can also ask Google nicely, but it's not clear what criteria the search giant uses to determine whether it will release the information or not. From January to June this year, UK government bodies (including the courts) submitted 1,425 requests and were granted 64 per cent of them by Google. Explaining its position, Google points to this site, which says it should only be required to provide information when presented with a search warrant that shows "probable cause".

ISPs have complained that the draft bill would impose onerous costs on them to set up and store all this extra data. "It is astonishing that the Home Office have had so little discussion with the Internet companies who need to deliver this legislation," said shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper. "The government have been slipshod with this bill from the word go."

What are your views on this? Should the police have access to extensive Internet records? Would you feel more or less safe knowing your Web history was available to the government? Do you think the taxpayer or the ISPs should pay for it? Draft your own legislation down in the comments, or over on our unimpeachable Facebook page.