The UK government has performed an about-face on plans for controversial internet surveillance plans. The 'snooper's charter' may have been kept at bay so far, but plans were afoot to force ISPs to retain the browsing histories of their customers. Prime Minister David Cameron had also strongly hinted at a desire to ban the use of strong encryption.
Home Secretary Theresa May told the BBC that security agencies such as GCHQ would not be granted the power to check web browsing histories. She also said that an encryption ban would not be implemented. Dismissed by some as little more than 'spin', the U-turn will be widely seen as the government's response to suggestions the any extension to online surveillance powers would be blocked in the House of Lords. But while this is something of a climb-down for the government, it is not the end of the battle for privacy groups.
The Conservative government has already faced heavy criticism for, amongst other things, proposing to scrap the Human Rights Act. With the threat of defeat when trying to push through the controversial investigatory powers bill this week, ministers appear to be trying to save face by watering down the original plans. Rather than sweeping NSA-style surveillance powers - at least publicly admitted - ministers now say that "any access to internet connection records will be strictly limited and targeted".
Speaking on the Andrew Marr show, Theresa May said:
As has been the case in the US, politicians have been accused of failing to understand the security implications of weakening encryption or providing any form of backdoor. Civil liberties campaigner David Davis said that the original proposals were "spectacularly impractical and to a large extent ignored the rights of individual citizens".
There are fears that the current proposals are rather vague, leaving them open to interpretation in a way that many are unhappy with. It has not been made clear who would be responsible for the authorisation of warrants that allows for more intrusive surveillance, but there are fears that a lack of independence could be an issue.