Government plans to push through communications legislation that will require service providers to store call, internet and text message records have been met with angry reactions.
The legislation is being rushed through as an emergency case and has been agreed on by all three main political parties. However, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in April that the blanket data-retention policy of the proposed EU Data Retention Directive is unlawful on human rights grounds.
The UK Pirate Party said that the discussions and the agreement were made out of the public view, by parties rattled by the ECJ. "Once again this is a cynical attempt to increase the grip of mass surveillance on the British people. This back-room deal between all three main parties is nothing short of a stitch up," said Loz Kaye, the leader of the Pirate Party. Kaye added that the UK already has good communication-surveillance capabilities.
The Open Rights Group has also condemned the government plans. Executive director Jim Killock said: "The government knows that since the ECJ ruling, there is no legal basis for making ISPs retain our data so it is using the threat of terrorism as an excuse for getting this law passed. The government has had since April to address the ECJ ruling, but it is only now that organisations such as ORG are threatening legal action that this has become an ‘emergency'.
"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 ECJ. Blanket surveillance needs to end. That is what the court has said."
Labour MP Tom Watson has reacted angrily to the proposals, saying that the communications data and interception plans need immediate opposition. "I've asked Labour's front bench to publicly oppose the rush for legislation. MPs need time to read any proposed bill. MPs have not seen the bill that will be railroaded through next week," he said.
Home secretary Theresa May made a statement in the House of Commons this morning confirming the plans. She disputed that she was bringing forward the communications bill from last year.
"Communications data and interception are vital for combatting crime and fighting terrorism. Without them we would not be able to keep the public safe," she said. May added that such data is invaluable, as it can link suspects and check alibis, but said the government and authorities face problems with this use.
She spoke about the ECJ decision, saying that fast-track legislation is necessary to retain these important rights, and the UK's investigatory regime, also known as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA).
May said RIPA includes safeguards that take on the concerns that the ECJ has with the data-retention directive, adding that her plans will retain the status quo. "We need to make sure that major service providers co-operate, otherwise we will see a major loss of the power and capabilities that we use," she noted.
May said a draft bill will look to ensure that firms that take UK data, but reside off UK shores, will abide by the government's rules. The bill has a sunset clause that means that it would cease to be in force in 2016, and May said official government transparency reports would reveal how data is used and shared. An oversight board would also be created.
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