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Snoopers’ Charter clears first hurdle at UK parliament

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
British legislators seen in the House of Commons in central London (file photo)

A bill controversially extending British authorities’ reach into people’s private lives in the UK has cleared the first major hurdle facing it in the country’s lower house of parliament.

The House of Commons lent its blessing 281-15 to the Investigatory Powers Bill, derided as Snoopers’ Charter, on Tuesday.

In order for the bill to become law, it must now clear the House of Lords.

If passed into law, something many British politicians wish to happen by yearend, the measure would let law enforcement officials obtain a list of the websites, apps, and messaging services used by the people they deem to be suspects.

It stops short of providing a peek into the individual Internet pages someone has visited or the messages they have sent, but requires telecommunications companies to keep records of customers’ Web histories for up to a year.

As per the proposed law, the companies should also provide the authorities with access to suspects’ electronic devices upon request.

Defending the bill, British Home Secretary Theresa May (seen below) said that criminals and terrorists were taking utmost advantage of technology. “We must ensure that those charged with keeping us safe are able to keep pace,” she said.

The opposition Labour Party and Scottish National Party, however, abstained in the voting, saying the legislation should be amended before being signed into law.

Earlier in the day, The Guardian published a letter in which more than 200 senior lawyers and law professors had protested that the bill “compromises the essence of the fundamental right to privacy and may be illegal.”

Experts also fear that the measure might weaken encryption, which is key to ensuring that online shopping and other activities can be conducted securely.

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