As David Cameron secured backing from all three major political parties today to introduce emergency legislation next week that will allow Internet and phone companies to continue keeping of customer metadata, privacy experts have branded the move as illegal.
The new law comes as the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled existing powers were unlawful.
The ECJ ruling means the government needed to pass a new law, but the new legislation still allows the government to keep doing something that the court ruled was illegal.
The government state that:
- the Bill includes a termination clause that ensures the legislation falls at the end of 2016 and the next government is forced to look again at these powers
- between now and 2016 we will hold a full review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, to make recommendations for how it could be reformed and updated
- we will appoint a senior diplomat to lead discussions with the American government and the internet companies to establish a new international agreement for sharing data between legal jurisdictions
- we will establish a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board on the American model, to ensure that civil liberties are properly considered in the formulation of government policy on counter-terrorism. This will be based on David Anderson’s existing role as the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.
- we will restrict the number of public bodies that are able to approach phone and internet companies and ask for communications data. Some bodies will lose their powers to access data altogether while local authorities will be required to go through a single central authority who will make the request on their behalf.
- finally, we will publish annual transparency reports, making more information publicly available than ever before on the way that surveillance powers operate
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.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg 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.
“But liberty and security must go hand in hand. We can’t enjoy our freedom if we’re unable to keep ourselves safe.”
According to Steve Peers, professor of EU law and human rights law at the University of Essex:
“The provision in the draft Bill to permit a requirement to collect ‘all’ data is inherently suspect, and it would certainly be a breach of EU law to require telecom providers to retain all traffic data within the scope of the e-privacy Directive without some form of further targeting.
“Much of the UK’s draft Bill would, if adopted, fall within the scope of EU law, and therefore the Charter of Rights. It is possible, depending on the future statutory instrument, that the rules, when applied, will comply with the data retention safeguards demanded by the CJEU. But the government’s intention, as manifested by the Bill, to reinstitute mass surveillance of telecoms traffic data is a clear breach of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.“
Jim Killock, outspoken executive director the Open Rights Group said the privacy organisation was threatening legal action:
“The government knows that since the CJEU [court of justice of the EU] ruling, there is no legal basis for making internet service providers 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 CJEU ruling but it is only now that organisations such as ORG are threatening legal action that this has become an ‘emergency’. Blanket surveillance needs to end. That is what the court has said.”