New laws allowing the police and security services to monitor emails and internet use could end up costing households £500 each, Liberal Democrats have claimed.
In an intervention that will raise tensions within the Coalition, a senior Lib Dem lawyer has warned that consumers will pay a heavy price for changes being promoted by Conservative ministers.The draft Communications Data Bill, overseen by Theresa May, the Home Secretary, would require internet providers to retain records of all their customers’ online activity for 12 months. Records would cover emails, messages on social networking sites and voice calls over the internet, showing who was contacted, for how long and how often.
Advocates say the measures will help the police and security services combat terrorists and criminals using the latest communications technology. They insist that the contents of internet communications will remain secret from the authorities.Critics, including senior Lib Dems, say that the changes are an unwarranted intrusion on personal liberties.A joint committee of peers is expected to raise doubts this week about the way the legislation has been drafted and presented. The committee was set up to address Lib Dem concerns, and the party’s ministers could use the committee report in a renewed attempt to kill the legislation.
The Home Office estimates that the new rules will cost £1.8 million over 10 years.Lord Marks QC, a Lib Dem lawyer who has studied the plans, suggested that the final cost would be much higher.Drawing on research into the previous Labour government’s aborted plan to introduce a national identity card scheme, he estimated that the costs of the data collection plan could overrun by £9.3 billion.
If those costs were to be recouped from the 18 million broadband subscribers in the UK, they would each have to pay £49.70 a year for a decade, he said. A survey last year put the average household’s monthly bill for broadband internet at about £26.“We cannot assume the shortfall would be found from the Government, and the danger is the liability would fall on broadband subscribers,” he said. “This Bill is not only hugely expensive, it is deeply unpleasant.”
Lord Marks said his party had “serious concerns” about measures he said amounted to a “snoopers’ charter”.Opposition to the Bill is not confined to the Lib Dems, as some Tory MPs also have expressed doubts. David Davis, the former Conservative shadow home secretary, has said the proposals were an “unnecessary and a huge invasion” of privacy. More than 100,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the proposals to be dropped. Mrs May warned in a newspaper article last week that the draft Bill’s opponents were “putting politics before people’s lives”. – Telegraph