Police will get new powers to force Internet firms to hand over details that could help identify suspects, but a ‘Snooper’s Charter’ is “dead and buried” say Lib Dems.
The powers are part of a proposed Anti-Terrorism and Security Bill, which includes an obligation for Internet service providers (ISPs) to retain information linking Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to individual users.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the measure would boost national security, but complained that Liberal Democrats were blocking further steps. Last year, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg torpedoed May’s Communications Data Bill – dubbed the Snooper’s Charter – which would have allowed the storage of every Internet users’ web history and social media contacts.
"Loss of the capabilities on which we have always relied is the great danger we face," May said. "The Bill provides the opportunity to resolve the very real problems that exist around IP resolution and is a step in the right direction towards bridging the overall communications data capability gap. But I believe we need to make further changes to the law.
"It is a matter of national security and we must keep on making the case for the Communications Data Bill until we get the changes we need."
However, the Lib Dems stressed that Deputy Prime Minister Clegg had been calling for the IP measures since spring 2013.
"It is good news that the Home Office has finally got round to producing proposals on this after being repeatedly asked by Nick Clegg. These can now be agreed and acted on in the upcoming Bill," a Lib Dem spokesman said.
"This is exactly the kind of thing that we need to take action on, rather than proposing an unnecessary, unworkable and disproportionate Snooper's Charter. There is absolutely no chance of that illiberal Bill coming back under the coalition government – it's dead and buried.
"The issue of IP-address-matching only resurfaced as a result of deeply misleading claims made in Theresa May's conference speech. That is what has prompted the Home Office to stop sitting on their hands."
Tory David Davis told BBC One's 'The Andrew Marr Show': "It's a stepping stone back to the old Snooper's Charter. The thing that Parliament roundly threw out about a year and half ago, two years ago because they weren't convinced that this was necessary.
"Now this technical change is okay, it's sensible, but the Home Secretary has said in effect that she sees it as a route back into the whole Snooper's Charter and, frankly, I think she's going to have real trouble."
Shami Chakrabarti, director of campaign group Liberty, said: "There's no problem with the targeted investigation of terrorist suspects, including where it requires linking apparently anonymous communications to a particular person.
"But every government proposal of the last so many years has been about blanket surveillance of the entire population. The Snowden revelations demonstrate that they were even prepared to act outside the law and without parliamentary consent. So, forgive us if we look for the devil in the detail of this new Bill."
Emma Carr, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "It is perfectly reasonable that powers to provide the police with the ability to match an IP address to the person using that service is investigated.
"However, if such a power is required, then it should be subject to the widespread consultation and comprehensive scrutiny that has been sorely lacking to date with industry, civil society and the wider public when it comes to introducing new surveillance powers.
"Before setting her sights on reviving the Snooper's Charter, the Home Secretary should address the fact that one of the biggest challenges facing the police is making use of the huge volume of data that is already available, including data from social media and Internet companies.
“The Snooper's Charter would not have addressed this, while diverting billions from investing in skills and training for the police."
Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe told the BBC’s 'The Andrew Marr Show' that he understood that many people "mistrust the state and worry about their privacy", but that he believed policy was going in the "right direction", while insisting that parliament had to decide on the balance between privacy and security.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "We will look at the detail the government brings forward on making it possible for the police and security services to identify terrorists and criminals online.
"We have always said that key information on IP addresses is required by the police when investigating who has sent abusive images of children or terror threats. It is important that access must be subject to appropriate oversight providing sufficient checks and balances. The government wanted to take powers that were far too widely drawn in the Communications Data bill.”