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5/31/2013
01:32 PM
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Google, Facebook Told U.K.: We Won't Be Snoops

Major U.S. tech firms including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Yahoo! had rejected now-canned U.K. plan to make them archive user traffic, says newspaper.

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The debate over how best to equip the British police security services to stop more terrorist atrocities like the Woolwich slaying of a soldier last week has taken yet another turn -- with U.S. Web giants including Google revealed as saying they don't want any part in a possible revival of a "snooper's charter."

The term is shorthand for Britain's hobbled Data Communications Bill which supporters say would have helped law enforcement monitor email, Web and SMS traffic and perhaps cracked extremist chatter and online plotting leading to the attack.

The American-based companies told Britain in April that they agreed with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's halting of the bill's progress through Parliament. According to a letter apparently written to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and leaked to the British press, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter all warned the British government they were unwilling to store data on U.K. users of their services for up to 12 months, as the draft legislation would have required of them.

[ What tops companies' security concerns? Read U.K. Public Sector's Top Security Worries. ]

They had instead pushed for a new bilateral agreement between the U.K. and U.S Internet firms that would have sped up the process of sharing user information to track terrorism, if needed. The companies also seem to have balked at the possible cost to them of maintaining such big databases, estimated to be as much as £1.8 billion ($2.7 billion).

"We do not want there to be any doubt about the strength of our concerns in respect of the idea that the U.K. government would seek to impose an order on a company in respect of services which are offered by service providers outside [the country]," said the private message, now in the hands of The Guardian. It goes on to say that, as the Internet is still a "relatively young technology" that is a great economic and social force, "there are risks in legislating too early in this fast-moving area that can be as significant as the risks of legislating too late."

The implication is that the U.K., which the document says has "rightly positioned itself as a leading digital nation," risks harming this status if it passed the bill.

The issue of how best to prevent attacks like the Woolrich incident is not settled yet. A Home Office statement issued earlier this week said that Her Majesty's Government is "continuing to look at ways of addressing this issue with communication service providers" and that "this may involve legislation."

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