Harry Cockburn: Emergency data law introduction is shoddy and undemocratic

A new emergency data law guaranteeing the police and security services access to the British population’s phone and internet data histories is expected to be passed at a Cabinet meeting in Downing Street this afternoon.

The Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill, as it is being called, has been described by David Cameron as “essential to fight the threat from criminals and terrorists targeting the UK”.

The bill’s passage through parliament on Monday is expected to be a rapid one, as it has cross-party support. This is rare, and means that the law will see virtually no opposition, and therefore be subjected to meagre public scrutiny before becoming law.

So far, there have been very few dissenting voices in government about this, though Labour MP Tom Watson has described it as “a stitch-up”, adding that “no one in civil society has got a chance to be consulted”.

But the reasons for the law don’t seem wholly unreasonable. According to a statement from the government, a European law giving governments access to phone and internet companies data was overturned as it was felt the powers the law granted to authorities “invaded inidividuals’ privacy”. The European law will no longer apply in the coming weeks.

The new UK law will merely replace that one, and will only be a functional law until 2016, at which time it will have to be replaced.

In addition, the use of the powers available to the government through the law will be subjected to checks by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and annual transparency reports will have to be published detailing the use of the powers.

Nonetheless, the reason the current European law is coming to an end is that the European Court of Justice deemed it illegal to hold data on citizens without a legitimate business purpose. The British government is anxious that telecoms and internet companies don’t delete the data, as it maintains that it is helpful to police and security services’ investigations.

But it is the shoddy, undemocratic process behind the new law that is worrying.

The European Court of Justice ruling, overturning the European law, happened in April this year, yet it has taken until mid-July for the government to take action.

Now the new UK law is being forced through with neither the appropriate levels of scrutiny, nor any discernible public consent.

The government and the opposition are united in ignoring European legislation and are keeping the public in the dark over surveillance.

Instead of parliament acting upon the will of the people, our elected representatives are doing as their parties tell them to, and the people do not have a say over the laws that govern them.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Anonymous

    first of all Harry 'get your hair cut'
    Next it doesn't matter a shit to most of us who looks at our e-mail and phone calls if it keeps us safe from the extremists. we who do not have anything to hide! i.e. just about all of us except the terrs!

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  • Hi Anonymous, thanks for the comment. I think. Though the point I'm making is not about the law itself, but the process through which it is being pushed through parliament with no opposition, no discussion and no public input.

    You will be pleased to know that I have had my haircut since the photograph was taken, but glad you're taking an interest in my grooming.

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