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British lawmakers debate making telecom companies store data for year

Workers look at their phones while walking at the Canary Wharf business district in London on February 26, 2014.

EDDIE KEOGH/REUTERS

British lawmakers debated the balance between privacy and security Tuesday during an unusual one-day session designed to rush an online surveillance bill through Parliament.

A series of government and opposition legislators spoke in the House of Commons to condemn the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill, which requires phone and Internet companies to store call and search records for a year.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the data is "vital in the fight against crime and the fight against terrorists."

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But Labour lawmaker Jeremy Corbyn called the bill "a massive piece of intrusion into people's lives," and Conservative David Davis said the legislation was intrusive and ill-conceived.

"While this may be law by the end of the week, it may be junk by the end of the year," Davis said.

Despite the criticism, most lawmakers did not attend the debate. The bill is backed by the three main party leaders and is almost certain to become law.

Data retention has been in legal limbo since the European Court of Justice ruled in April that a European Union directive requiring companies to store communications data for up to two years was too broad and a threat to privacy rights.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced the emergency legislation last week, saying without it telecommunications providers would start deleting the information, creating a problem for law enforcement agencies and intelligence services.

The government says the new law does not expand existing surveillance powers. But critics say it seeks to legalize activities that the European court has ruled unlawful.

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