Google fears government internet snooping

Google fears that the Digital Economy Bill could give the government the right to spy on UK internet users.

Union Jack

Google has voiced its fears over the Digital Economy Bill, claiming that Clause 17 could lead to an increase in government scrutiny into the internet habits of users.

Clause 17 allows the government to change its laws on copyright in the future through statutory instrument, rather than a full legislative procedure.

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In a blog post Sarah Hunter, Google's UK policy manager, said it feared Clause 17 could require the government to start gathering more information about users internet habits, even when nothing illegal had taken place.

"The first step required of any government using these new powers would be to carry out some sort of assessment of whether significant copyright infringements are taking place," she said.

"The assessment would have to be based on independent facts and what facts' other than through user data? Crucially, such an assessment would require examining the behaviour of all UK internet users. This is wrong."

Hunter said that Google "fiercely" protected the privacy of its users around the world, and did not believe that the fear of illegal activity justified intrusion everywhere on the internet.

Google understands why the government would try to make laws "future proof" to cope with technical change, according to Hunter, but she added: "...as we have said many times in the past, legislation is often like a slow moving tank in the internet world. Innovations happen faster than most politicians can even imagine, and to try and future proof laws requires laws so big and powerful that the risks of misuse far outweigh the benefits."

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Google, eBay, Facebook and Yahoo have already written a letter to Business Secretary Lord Mandelson, warning that the clause risked "stifling innovation and damaging the government's vision for Digital Britain."

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