Radio Sandwell News

Emergency data retention law set to be passed

2014-07-10 12:01:34

An emergency law to ensure police and security services can continue to access people's phone and internet records is expected to be approved at a special cabinet meeting later.

David Cameron says the Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill is needed to fight "criminals and terrorists".

But civil liberties groups say it infringes the right to privacy and sets a dangerous precedent.

It comes after the European Court of Justice struck down existing powers.

An EU directive requiring phone and internet companies to retain communications data - when and who their customers called, texted and emailed but not what was said - for a 12 month period was ruled unlawful in April by the European Court.

Without a new law being passed in the UK to retain the powers, Mr Cameron claims that that information could be destroyed within weeks by companies fearing legal challenges, meaning police and the security services will not be able to access it.

A special cabinet meeting is being held on Thursday to agree the planned laws, which will have a "sunset clause" meaning they will lapse in 2016.

In a statement ahead of the meeting the prime minister 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 two vital measures ensuring that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies maintain the right tools to keep us all safe."

'Snooper's charter'

Labour MP Tom Watson said rushing the bill through Parliament meant MPs would not get time to properly consider the plans and he branded it a "stitch-up".

The Open Rights Group, which campaigns for greater openness, criticised the government for using the threat of terrorism to get push through an "emergency law" that it says has no legal basis.

Executive Director Jim Killock said: "Not only will the proposed legislation infringe our right to privacy, it will also set a dangerous precedent where the government simply re-legislates every time it disagrees with a decision by the CJEU. The ruling still stands and these new plans may actually increase the amount of our personal data that is retained by ISPs, further infringing on our right to privacy.

"Blanket surveillance needs to end. That is what the court has said."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, whose Lib Dem party has blocked Conservative plans for security services to have wider access to communications powers said the emergency legislation balanced security and civil liberties.

He said: "We know the consequences of not acting are serious, but this urgency will not be used as an excuse for more powers, or for a 'snooper's charter'.

"I believe that successive governments have neglected civil liberties in the pursuit of greater security. We will be the first government in many decades to increase transparency and oversight and make significant progress in defence of liberty."

Among measures which he says will "increase transparency and oversight" are:

  • A senior diplomat will be appointed to lead discussions with the US government and internet firms to establish a new international agreement for sharing data between legal jurisdictions
  • The creation of a new Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to examine the impact of the law on privacy and civil liberties
  • A review of the controversial RIPA - Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act
  • Annual government transparency reports on how these powers are used
  • A restriction on the number of public bodies able to ask for communications data
  • The so-called sunset clause ensuring these powers end in 2016 to ensure a longer and wider debate about what replaces them

Communications data is said by the government to have been used in 95% of all serious organised crime cases handled by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The data that the bill covers is the detail of when a call was made and who it was made by and to, rather than the actual content of the call.


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