Clegg promises to veto the Communications Data Bill

The coalition government comprises the Conservative Party and a relatively small number of Liberal Democrat members of parliament. Without the Lib Dem support, the conservatives do not command a majority in the House of Commons. This morning, in an interview on LBC radio, Nick Clegg said, “What people have dubbed the ‘snooper’s charter’ is not going to happen – the idea the Government would pass a law that meant there was a record kept of every website you communicate with… that’s not going to happen.”

In theory this means that the bill is dead. In reality it is not necessarily so. Technically, the Conservatives can still push ahead with the bill in the hope of gaining support from a sufficient number of opposition Labour members. Since the bill is very similar in concept to attempts by the last Labour administration to impose similar controls/filtering on the internet, this is a distinct possibility. But were the Conservatives to do so, against the wishes of their coalition partners, it would almost certainly lead to the end of mutual co-operation, and the almost certain end of the current government. With the Conservatives running well behind the Labour party in all polls, a new election would be a risky gamble. Cameron (leader of the Conservatives) is personally more popular than Ed Miliband (leader of the Labour party); and it is generally accepted that many people vote for the leader rather than the party. Nevertheless, although possible, it is very unlikely that the Conservative backbenchers would accept such a risk to their political careers.

So, to all intents and purposes, the Communications Data Bill, is, in its current form, arguably, dead.

Emma Carr, deputy director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group, Big Brother Watch, said: “Nick Clegg has made the right decision for our economy, for internet security and for our freedom.” She points out that last year Skype provided the UK police more user information than any other national police force, including the US. “To say that the police can’t get data from the internet without this bill is simply wrong.” The danger, she adds, is that there is “a real risk this bill would make the situation worse by driving dangerous people underground into encrypted services.”

Her comments almost exactly echo the content of the recent letter sent by leading security academics to David Cameron. “It would have made Britain a less attractive place to start a company and put British companies in the position of being paid by the Government to spy on their customers, something that oppressive regimes around the world would have quickly copied.” 

Nevertheless, it is technically too soon to talk about the Communications Data Bill in the past tense. There is a worldwide tendency for such proposed legislation to return, perhaps reworded with a few concessions and possibly even a new name: but return it will.

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