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Britain to present new watered down surveillance bill

Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May speaks at the Women in the World summit in London, Britain, October 9, 2015. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s government will present a new bill to give security agencies the powers to track online communications, but in a bid to win over critics interior minister Theresa May said they would not get automatic access to people’s browsing history.

May told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show on Sunday that the new bill, to be presented in parliament on Wednesday, was “quite different” from earlier plans to give police greater powers to monitor communications and web activities that opponents dubbed a “snoopers’ charter”.

She said the Investigatory Powers Bill would not include automatic powers to go through people’s browsing history and any “intrusive” actions would be subject of “strong oversight arrangements”, in a nod to critics who said earlier plans would trample over the public’s right to privacy.

“It’s about bringing the ability of our law enforcement and security services to deal with the issues they are dealing with ... and bringing that forward into the digital age,” she said.

She also said the new bill would not require communication service providers in Britain to store third party data.

A debate about how to protect privacy while giving agencies the powers they need in the digital age has raged since former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden leaked details about mass surveillance by British and U.S spies in 2013.

Britain’s security chiefs argue they are facing a capability gap because of technological advances, and say that their work has been severely hampered by Snowden’s disclosures.

But campaigners and civil rights groups have said Snowden’s disclosures about mass surveillance showed the authorities were not respecting people’s entitlement to privacy.

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky