Woolwich: Powers to monitor internet use back on agenda

Home Secretary will push again for 'snooper's charter' after Liberal Democrats vetoed policy

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The Independent Online

The Woolwich murder will be used by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, to revive plans for a "snooper's charter", allowing police and security services to monitor internet use, Conservative sources indicated tonight.

Ms May was furious when Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, vetoed the inclusion of the contentious scheme in this month's Queen's Speech on the grounds that it was disproportionate and an invasion of privacy.

She faced demands from senior figures in all parties to strengthen the powers of the police and security services after Wednesday's killing of an off-duty soldier.

David Cameron and Tory ministers insisted they would not rush into "knee-jerk" legislation while feelings were running high, but they are preparing to return to the scheme before the next election.

The move would divide the Coalition as the Liberal Democrats are strongly opposed to the Communications Data Bill, which is on hold.

A senior Tory told The Independent: "The Home Secretary is very keen to do something shortly that includes at least some of this Bill. I suspect any opportunity to strengthen pressure on the naysayers will be taken. She is absolutely determined to do something."

Under Ms May's plans, internet service providers would have to store data about website visits, emails, mobile calls and messages on social media and Skype. The information would cover the time, duration and recipient of messages, but not their contents.

The Home Secretary insisted the moves would help to monitor terrorists who were turning to sophisticated technology to escape detection. A Home Office source said: "It's a simple idea about giving the authorities the tools to keep track of pretty clever people. When people understand what's being proposed, it's hard to object."

Security sources acknowledged it was unclear whether the Bill's proposed powers would have thwarted the Woolwich attack and signalled their wariness over being used for "political purposes".

But they said that greater access to contacts between terror suspects would be useful in the early stages of an investigation and to collect evidence to secure a conviction.

Senior Tories insist that talks are continuing within the Coalition over the Bill's fate and that Liberal Democrat objections can be overcome. But a spokesman for Mr Clegg said: "There are already substantial powers in place to track the communications of criminals and terrorists." And a Liberal Democrat source warned that the Deputy Prime Minister would face "open revolt" from his party's grassroots if the Bill was revived.

Calls for the extension of email and internet monitoring powers were led by Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terror laws, who is a Liberal Democrat peer. "We must ensure the police and the security services have for the future the tools they need … to prevent this kind of attack taking place," he said.

Lord Reid, the former Home Secretary, said mobile phone data had been crucial in saving 2,500 lives by foiling a plot in 2006 to blow up airliners using liquid explosives. But he added: "Now people have moved on from mobile phones to internet, email, text, Skype. We don't have the means of doing what we did six years ago."

Nick Pickles, director of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, warned of the "dangers of rushing forward policy changes when the nation is in shock and of those who seek to use the politics of fear".