By Cassie Chambers
The government is committed to implementing its controversial communications data bill, home secretary Theresa May has said.
The bill has been branded the "snooper's charter" by civil liberties groups, but following publication of the draft of the bill this morning Ms May defended the bill and reaffirmed the government's commitment to its implementation.
"Checking communication records, not content, is a crucial part of day-to-day policing and the fingerprinting of the modern age," she said.
"We are determined to ensure its continued availability in cracking down on crime."
The bill, published by the Home Office, seeks to expand the access of key government agencies to communications data. Communications data includes information such as the time and duration of a virtual communication, but is distinct from information about the communication's content.
Under the proposed legislation, communication service providers would be required to store this type of information and make it available to select agencies on request. Many providers do not currently store this type of communications data.
Campaigners have heavily criticised the legislation as an inappropriate intrusion by government into individuals' lives.
Nick Pickles, the director privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the draft of the bill was exactly as he had feared.
“The bill is as expected", said Mr Pickles, "an unprecedented and unwarranted attack on our privacy that will see the government track where we make calls, who we email and what everyone does online. We are all suspects now."
Mr Pickles went on to criticise the government's removal of Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act powers from local councils as a "cursory concession" designed to create "pure misdirection to try and disguise what are deeply unsettling proposals".
Despite heavy criticism, often from within the libertarian wing of Ms May's own party, the home secretary continues to argue for the necessity of the bill.
"Communications data saves lives. It is a vital tool for the police to catch criminals and to protect children," said Ms May.
"If we stand by as technology changes we will leave police officers fighting crime with one hand tied behind their backs."
The bill would limit access to communications data to four key bodies: the police, the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA)/National Crime Agency, the intelligence agencies, and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs.
These agencies would only have access to information when requesting it for a specific purpose, such as investigating a crime or for the sake of national security.
Trevor Pearce, director general of the SOCA said: "Any significant reduction in the capability of law enforcement agencies to acquire and exploit intercept intelligence and evidential communications data would lead to more unsolved murders, more firearms on our streets, more successful robberies, more unresolved kidnaps, more harm from the use of class A drugs, more illegal immigration and more unsolved serious crime overall."
He continued: "This would mean SOCA, the Metropolitan Police Service and other agencies relying more heavily on more expensive, more risky and potentially more intrusive techniques to locate and apprehend offenders."