The Government is rushing through emergency powers that will effectively pause the debate on the retention of people’s internet and phone data until 2016.
The emergency Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill – said to have the support of the three main parties – is being introduced following a ruling from the European Court of Justice that threw out a directive on data retention on the basis that it amounted to an invasion of privacy.
Without introducing emergency powers, the Government argues that security services can’t force ISPs and phone companies to retain data for law enforcement purposes, something which Prime Minister David Cameron said is essential to combat threats to national security.
Cameron said: “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.”
The new powers will automatically expire in 2016, after the next general election, ostensibly giving MPs, industry bodies and the public more time to work on more robust proposals for privacy and data retention.
In the meantime, retaining the existing laws creates a clearer legal environment for ISPs and phone networks, which didn’t want to fall afoul of either UK or EU law.
A review of RIPA (Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000) will also take place. RIPA dictates which government bodies can and can’t legally intercept communications. Currently, everyone from the Department of Transport to the Post Office is able to collect communications data under RIPA.
A new board, dubbed the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, to check on who is using these powers and how they will be used.
Labour MP Tom Watson is not convinced. Watson argues: “It’s a Bill that will override the views of judges who have seen how the mass collection of your data breaches the human rights of you and your family.”
“Regardless of where you stand on the decision of the European Court of Justice, 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?”
Liberal Democrat MP Julian Huppert, defended the proposals, calling them a chance to rewrite current laws. Huppert said:
“We need legislation to allow communications data to be available, but not to store more than is already allowed. And in this post-Snowden world, we need to move towards keeping less, and finding better and more proportionate ways to do so.
“We need to completely rewrite the law in this area. But that cannot be done quickly. We have to get it right, which will take a lot of work from many experts.”
Huppert has been a vocal opponent of the Communications Data Bill, which proposed to give security forces access to all communications data gather by ISPs and phone companies without a warrant.
The controversial Communications Data Bill, dubbed the ‘snoopers’ charter’ by critics was eventually put on ice by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
The final Bill, with further accompanying documents, is expected to be published and given first reading on July 14 and parliament will vote on July 15.