UK Commons approves ‘emergency’ surveillance despite bitter protests

Douglas Crawford

Douglas Crawford

July 16, 2014

Amid scenes of bitter argument, a cross-party coalition of UK MPs this morning pushed the highly controversial ‘emergency’ Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) surveillance bill through the House of Commons.

Despite cross-party support, a minority of MPs put up ferocious resistance to the bill, with backbencher Labour MP Tom Watson describing the rushed legislation in the most damning terms,

Parliament has been insulted …[This is] democratic banditry resonant of a rogue state..’.

David Winnick, Labour MP and member of the home affairs select committee, concurred,

‘I consider this to be an outright abuse of parliamentary procedure.

The comments also reflect those of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, who yesterday weighed into the heated argument to condemn the bill, saying that ‘it describes belief… I mean the NSA could have written this draft.

The bill passed 499 votes to 33 in favor. Attempts by a group of MPs opposed to the legislation to introduce a 12 months ‘sunset clause’ were also defeated 456 votes to 56.

Home secretary Teresa May defended the bill, arguing that it merely confirmed existing government powers, and that,

If we delay we face the appalling prospect police operations will go dark, that trails will go cold, that terrorist plots will go undetected. If that happens, innocent lives may be lost.

Despite the bill receiving support from Labour, it is clear that many opposition MPs are unhappy with the both the sweeping surveillance powers it grants. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper referred to the legislation as a ‘sticking plaster’, saying that she hoped it would lead to wider debate about civil liberties,

The home secretary will recognise that parliament has been put in a difficult position by this emergency legislation this week… This is not the way that this kind of legislation should be done. Let’s be clear, the last-minute nature of it does undermine trust in the government’s intentions but also in the vital work the police and agencies need to do.

Unfortunately, she nevertheless bowed to the government line that such legislation was necessary,

But I also have no doubt this legislation is needed and that we cannot delay it until the autumn.

The bill still requires approval by the House of Lords, who will examine it today and tomorrow, as the government hopes to receive royal assent for it before the weekend.

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