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Digital public sector news, research & engagement

Councils to lose their 'big brother' powers

Local authorities will be barred from snooping on phone calls, emails and internet use, under controversial legislation to be published today. The draft Communications Bill will also extend the amount of information available to police and security services, Home Secretary Theresa May will say.

hey will be given new powers to track suspects through their use of emails and websites, to make it easier to catch paedophiles and terrorists.

But the new responsibilities will not be available to local authorities and councils will also be stripped of their current powers to access information about phone calls.

However, they will be able to apply to Parliament to have these current powers - under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 - reinstated at a later date.

The move comes after May's initial proposals to extend internet surveillance were greeted with widespread criticism from civil liberties campaigners earlier this year.

Full details will be outlined when the bill is published this morning, on the same day that David Cameron appears before the Leveson inquiry into the behaviour of the press.

Speaking ahead of that publication, May said: "Communications data is vital for the police in their fight against crime, including serious offences such as child abuse, drug dealing and terrorism. These measures are necessary to protect the public and investigate crime - and that is the only reason for which they should be used.

"That is why I think it is right that we look again and ask whether local authorities really need access to communications data."

Charles Farr, the director-general of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, said more communications were taking place on the internet, with fewer by phone, than ever before.

The new powers were needed to help the police and the security services fight crime and terrorism by obtaining details such as the time of the communication, the sender, the recipient and the location. About one in four requests for data by the police and agencies can no longer be met under the current regime, he said - a figure that could rise to 30% within a few years if no action was taken.