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British MPs Say Proposed Spy Law Fails to Protect Privacy

  • Associated Press

FILE - An analyst points to a screen at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain's electronic intelligence service, in London, March, 14, 2014.

FILE - An analyst points to a screen at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain's electronic intelligence service, in London, March, 14, 2014.

British government plans to strengthen spies' powers to snoop on the Internet are muddled and don't do enough to protect privacy, lawmakers responsible for scrutinizing the country's intelligence agencies said Tuesday.

Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee said the draft Investigatory Powers Bill takes a “piecemeal” approach to protecting privacy. It said in a report that privacy should be “an integral part of the legislation rather than an add-on.”

In the wake of Edward Snowden's revelations about the powerful snooping capabilities of the U.S. National Security Agency and its British counterpart, GCHQ, the legislators said “it is surprising that the protection of people's privacy... doesn't feature more prominently” in the legislation.

The bill is intended to replace a patchwork of laws, some dating from the Web's infancy, and set the limits of surveillance in the digital age.

But the committee said portions of the draft law were “inconsistent and largely incomprehensible.”

Conservative lawmaker Dominic Grieve, who chairs the committee, said it has been evident that even those working on the legislation have not always been clear as to what the provisions are intended to achieve.”

The committee also said the bill should include more restraints on spy agencies' powers to scoop up bulk data from computer and mobile-phone users.

If approved by Parliament, the bill will let police and spies access Internet connection records - a list of websites, apps and messaging services someone has visited, though not the individual pages they looked at or the messages they sent.

It will require telecommunications companies to keep records of customers' Web histories for up to a year, and to help security services gain access to suspects' electronic devices.

Internet companies including Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo have raised concerns about the plans, saying they could introduce “risks or vulnerabilities into products or services.”

Civil liberties groups have also expressed alarm at the bill. The government says it will set out final proposals in the spring.

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