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UK security service to get new powers to bug MP phones

[JURIST] The government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair will in a few weeks lift a longstanding ban on wiretapping the phones of members of parliament as part of a push to expand the surveillance powers of Britain's MI5 [official website] security service in the wake of the July 2005 London bombings [JURIST report], according to the Independent on Sunday newspaper. Former Prime Minister Harold Wilson [CNN profile] promised MPs in the late 1960s that their communication lines would never be tapped by security officials, "whatsoever the circumstances," an assurance now referred to as the Wilson Doctrine. Blair has previously indicated [Guardian report] that subjecting MPs to wiretaps would be consistent with governmental powers authorized by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000 [text], and would be exercised only in extreme situations. A number of Labour Party backbenchers as well as members of the opposition Liberal Democrats [party website] have expressed concern over the proposed change, arguing that lifting the ban could facilitate the use of sensitive information for political, rather than security, purposes. The Independent reported that discussion of the plan prompted a major Cabinet controversy before Christmas, with British Defence Secretary John Reid [official profile], traditionally a strong Blair ally, speaking out forcefully against it. The Independent has more.

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