Surveillance laws divide Britain's ruling coalition | Connect Asia

Surveillance laws divide Britain's ruling coalition

Surveillance laws divide Britain's ruling coalition

Updated 9 April 2012, 14:32 AEST

British Prime Minister David Cameron says his powerful new surveillance laws are essential for the safety of the country.

But they're causing some big cracks in the government with comparisons being made to the techniques used by authorities in Iran or China.

The junior coalition partner has threatened to kill proposals for increased monitoring of emails and internet use if they're not watered down.

Correspondent: Lisa Millar

Speakers: David Cameron, British Prime Minister; Tim Farron, Liberal Democrats Party president; Nick Pickles, e director of the civil liberties and privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch

LISA MILLAR: The British government has faced a backlash since announcing its plans.

Just days ago David Cameron was defending what have been labelled by critics as Big

Brother laws equal to anything seen in Iran or China.

DAVID CAMERON: As I see it there are some significant gaps in our defences - gaps because of the moving on of technology but also gaps in our defences because it isn't currently possible to use intelligence information in a court of law without sometimes endangering national security.

LISA MILLAR: But now the junior coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, have said they're so horrified by what's been reported so far they won't waste time trying to negotiate.

Party president Tim Farron:

TIM FARRON: We are prepared to kill them. I mean be absolutely clear about that. If it comes down to it, if we think this is a threat to a free and liberal society then there'll be question of unpicking them or compromising. This just simply must not happen.

LISA MILLAR: While there's no draft legislation yet it has been reported that the government will be able to monitor the calls, emails, texts and website visits of everyone in the UK.

Tim Farron says that will be an extraordinary intrusion into privacy.

TIM FARRON: It strikes me that a Liberal Democrat or a government that includes Liberal Democrats should ensure that Britain ends up a more liberal place, not less. And like many of us who are Liberals, very horrified by the original press report about what the surveillance measures might lead to.

LISA MILLAR: Nick Pickles is the director of the civil liberties and privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch.

NICK PICKLES: Well the government hasn't really offered any detail of what they're trying to do. On the one hand they referred to it as a minor change to update existing law, to cover new technology. But on the other hands we're told it's an incredibly important (inaudible) piece of legislation that is critical to our national security.

So we're still working through what we do know but from initial reports it looks like the idea of monitoring who you email and who you send Facebook messages to is something they're looking at. And so clearly a lot of scrutiny is going to have to go into these proposals to see just how much they impact on privacy and actually if they'll work.

LISA MILLAR: Do you accept though that technology changes are making things more of a challenge for a government worried about security gaps?

NICK PICKLES: The internet has absolutely changed the way we communicate. But I think the idea that terrorists are sending Facebook messages to each other or sending emails to each other with obvious key words in them is perhaps a little naive.

And my worry actually here is not only is this going to carry a serious price for civil liberty but it might not actually improve public safety.

LISA MILLAR: David Cameron says it's vital the changes go ahead and he's convinced you can improve security while respecting liberty.

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