The British government has patched up a deal with the opposition, and plans to announce emergency legalization that will allow it to retain personal data collected by ISPs and telecoms companies.
The move follows the European Court of Justice decision in April, which declared the EU-wide Data Retention Directive (DRD) invalid on the grounds that it ‘interferes in a particularly serious manner with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data.’
Up until now the government has tried to ignore the ECJ ruling, and has even instructed ISPs and telecoms to continue collecting customers’ data in defiance of it. However, a new high court challenge to this continued collection despite the ECJ ruling has forced the government’s hand and prompted it to act.
In many ways the timing is fortuitous for the government, as Parliament is in recess at the moment, so the legislation has the opportunity to pass while few MPs are actually present to vote on it, a situation infuriates Labour backbench MP Tom Watson,
‘Regardless of where you stand on the decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), can you honestly say that you want a key decision about how your personal data is stored to be made by a stitch-up behind closed doors and clouded in secrecy? None of your MPs have even read this legislation, let alone been able to scrutinise it.
“The very fact that the government is even considering this form of action, strongly suggests that it has an expectation that the few people on the Liberal Democrat and Labour front benches who have seen this legislation are willing to be complicit.’
The opposition Labour Party has agreed accept the bill on the grounds that it will restore powers that the government thought were legal until the ECJ ruling. However, as part of the deal the government has agreed that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, often viewed as the legal basis for over-extension of government surveillance powers, will be subject to a review. In addition to this, Labour has pushed for a ‘sunset clause’ to be added to the emergency legislation.
It almost goes without says that privacy groups are very unhappy with the proposed new legislation, which it is believed will be pushed through the Commons next week. The director of Open Rights Group, Jim Killock told the Guardian that,
‘Forcing ISPs to retain the data of every UK citizen is disproportionate and unnecessary. Rather than rushing through a new law, let’s get parliament to look at this and get this right…. If the government is to bring forward legislation, it must comply with the 10 principles set out in the ECJ judgment, in particular the ending of the mass retention of our personal data. This is no longer acceptable.’
Acting director of Big Brother Watch, Emma Carr expressed similar views,
‘It is a basic principle of a free society that you don’t monitor people who are not under suspicion. Considering the snoopers’ charter has already been rejected by the public as well as by the highest court in Europe, it is essential that the government does not rush headfirst into creating new legislation.
The EU’s data retention laws privatised snooping, meaning companies were paid by governments to record what citizens were doing and retain that information for a year. We need to get back to a point where the police monitor people who are actually suspected of wrongdoing rather than wasting millions every year requiring data to be stored on an indiscriminate basis.’
The government this morning confirmed that the emergency legislation, which will be called the ‘Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill’ will be announced today following ‘cross party agreement’. Prime Minister David Cameron said,
‘It is the first duty of government to protect our national security and to act quickly when that security is compromised. As events in Iraq and Syria demonstrate, now is not the time to be scaling back on our ability to keep our people safe. The ability to access information about communications and intercept the communications of dangerous individuals is essential to fight the threat from criminals and terrorists targeting the UK.
No government introduces fast track legislation lightly. But the consequences of not acting are grave. I want to be very clear that we are not introducing new powers or capabilities – that is not for this Parliament. This is about restoring 2 vital measures ensuring that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies maintain the right tools to keep us all safe.’
The PM confirmed that a two year sunset clause would be attached to the legislation, and announced measures that he claimed would ‘increase transparency and oversight.’