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By Peter Hoskin
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What’s
going on with the draft Data Communications Bill, then? Judging by Theresa May’s
mini
column
for the Sun this morning, you’d think that the Tory leadership is basically
standing its ground against the concerns of Nick Clegg
and others. The Home Secretary does nod towards “suggestions about how our plans could be improved”. But she also adds that “I will not allow
these vitally important laws to be delayed any longer in this Parliament,”
before finishing, “This law is needed and it is needed now. And I am determined
to see it through.”

But, as the day has worn on, that position has
looked less and less equivocal. First, the Home Office minister James
Brokenshire appeared
on the Today Programme
to say that a redrafted Bill could be delivered in “short
order”; then No.10 also talked
up
a rewrite. And is it any wonder? The opposition to the draft Bill, and its
provisions for expanding the range of telecoms data held by providers and
accessible by the state, is now extremely formidable. The Guardian articles here
and here
give a good sense of it all; and from them we might identify four of the
disgruntled forces:

i) Labour, natch. “But the shadow home secretary, Yvette
Cooper, immediately ruled out the suggestion that Labour could be called upon
to help get the legislative plans through parliament. She said the report
showed May was ‘making a complete mess of a very important issue’ and ‘needed
to urgently rethink this legislation’.”

ii) The Liberal Democrats. “A coalition clash over the home
secretary's ‘snooper's charter’ legislation has opened up at the highest level,
with Nick Clegg bluntly telling Theresa May: "We
cannot proceed with this bill and we have to go back to the drawing board.”

iii) Prominent Tory backbenchers. “David Davis told the Guardian: ‘This bill needs
to go straight back to the drawing board. What it requires is a wholesale
rewrite.’ Even then, Davis said, it would still probably not make it on to the
statute book before the next general election.”

iv) Prominent select committees. “The parliamentary scrutiny committee,
which includes the former cabinet secretary Lord Armstrong and three former cabinet
ministers, says the home secretary's draft communications data bill must be
completely rewritten if it is to meet the committee's substantial concerns
about its scope, ineffective safeguards, cost and lack of wider consultation. ‘This
bill is dead in its current form,’ one MP on the committee said.”

And, from earlier
news reports
, there’s a fifth too:

v) Web royalty. “Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has sharply
criticised the government's ‘snooper's charter’, designed to track internet, text and email use of all
British citizens, as ‘technologically incompetent’. … He said Wikipedia would
move to encrypt all its connections with Britain if UK internet companies, such
as Vodafone and Virgin
Media, were mandated by the government to keep track of every single page
accessed by UK citizens.”

It’s difficult to imagine how Theresa May can
truly overcome this five-pronged fork that’s set against her. If the Bill is to
survive, then surely rather drastic changes will have to be made to it. But if
those changes don’t arrive quickly, then it will probably be as David Davis
says: the Bill will not make it through Parliament before 2015. The choice
facing the Home Secretary is basically between compromising her plans or seeing
them come to nothing.

What’s curious, then, is how the Tory
leadership has stuck by this draft Bill for so long. When the Coalition was
formed there was much talk of both governing parties uniting over civil
liberties — but, all too often, the Tories have ceded that ground to the Lib
Dems. There’s still plenty
of room for cooperation
in these areas, if only because so little of it has
gone on so far.

> It’s worth re-reading the column that Jill Kirby wrote on all this
last week:
Theresa
May mustn't browbeat Parliament into accepting the Data Communications Bill

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