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Journalists and privacy activists decry new snooping laws

JOURNALISTS and pro-democracy groups voiced alarm yesterday in the wake of Westminster leaders’ strong-arm tactics to bolster state snooping laws.

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill swept through all three stages in the House of Commons on Tuesday evening following Tory PM David Cameron’s back-room deal with Labour leader Ed Miliband and the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

Just a handful of MPs sat in on the “emergency” debate, but hundreds repeatedly traipsed into the chamber to vote under orders from party whips — and then promptly left again.

Just 33 MPs voted against the Bill at its third and final reading, with 449 votes in favour.

The Bill, which is expected to become law by next week, would reassert the government’s policy of “blanket retention.”

That requires internet service providers to log details of all users’ online activity for inspection by police, spies and other government agencies, despite a European Court of Justice ruling that the scheme breached citizens’ right to privacy.

National Union of Journalists general secretary Michelle Stanistreet said yesterday that the Bill’s effect on a free press and protected sources remained “worryingly unclear.”

The union would demand exemptions for journalists and measures to retire the legislation by the year’s end, she added.

Unlock Democracy researcher Pete Mills said the government’s conduct showed Britain’s need for a written constitution, with the coalition able to decide “on the hoof” whether their aims justified emergency legislation.

“Three days is not, under any democratic standard, enough time for Parliament to consider the implications of this Bill, to debate it and to pass the necessary amendments,” he said.

The comments came within hours of a hurried Lords select committee report which noted that the court’s decision had arrived in early April.

“Thus the government has had more than three months to consider their response, yet they propose that Parliament be given less than one week (in fact three sitting days) to legislate,” it said.

The contrast was “a matter of concern, not least because of suspicions that are naturally aroused when legislation is fast-tracked.”

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