The UnNamed Bill
Last night, Labour MP Tom Watson took to his blog with an emergency call out on all MPs and member of the public with an interest in maintaining our rights to privacy. Here is what he said:
Last Thursday there was a curious announcement in the Chamber of the House of Commons. At the session to announce future business, Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley said this:
“Monday 14th July — consideration of a Bill, followed by a motion to approve the first report from the Committee on Standards on the respect policy”
If you look on Parliament’s web site tonight, you will not see the name, nor the text of the Bill to be considered.
None of your elected backbench MPs have been told what Bill is to be debated on Monday. It’s Wednesday evening. Tomorrow, MPs are on a ‘one line whip’ ie they can return to their constituencies this evening.
Imagine how outrageous it would be, if tomorrow, the government were to announce emergency legislation to an empty chamber. Imagine if that emergency legislation was to be introduced on Monday or Tuesday, with the intention of it slipping through the Commons and the Lords in a single day. Imagine if that Bill was the deeply controversial Data Retention Bill.
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?
None of your MPs have even read this legislation, let alone been able to scrutinise it.
The very fact that the Government is even considering this form of action, strongly suggests that they have an expectation that the few people on the Liberal Democrat and Labour front benchers who have seen this legislation, are willing to be complicit.
No matter what you think about this issue, if you care about democracy, make sure your MP does not walk through the chamber and vote for legislation nobody has had the chance to debate and question.
Strong words indeed. But Watson wasn’t crying wolf, this morning it was confirmed that the aforementioned ‘unnamed bill’ was in fact the Data Retention Bill.
What Does the Bill Do?
In short, the Bill forces phone and internet companies to maintain records of all customer calls, texts and internet usage.
Powers to retain this data were rushed through in the wake of 7/7. Two weeks ago, the European Court of Justice ruled that such copious information detailing a fairly intricate view of a subject’s private life, without warrant or reasons for suspicion, was a severe incursion of privacy.
Rather than abiding by this ruling, the government is seeking to use emergency legislation protocol to rush the Bill through parliament.
The emergency legislation will oblige telecom firms to retain data for 12 months.
The move has left parliament reeling, with no time for debate.
Jim Killock, the director of Open Rights Group, said:
“Forcing ISPs to retain the data of every UK citizen is disproportionate and unnecessary. Rather than rushing through a new law, let’s get parliament to look at this and get this right.
“If the government is to bring forward legislation, it must comply with the 10 principles set out in the ECJ judgment, in particular the ending of the mass retention of our personal data. This is no longer acceptable.”
Emma Carr, acting director of the Big Brother Watch privacy campaign, added:
“It is a basic principle of a free society that you don’t monitor people who are not under suspicion. Considering the snoopers’ charter has already been rejected by the public as well as by the highest court in Europe, it is essential that the government does not rush headfirst into creating new legislation.
What of the impact on Scotland? Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill said ministers north of the border were “disappointed at the lack of prior consultation and discussion from UK Government”.
Mr MacAskill added:
“In an independent Scotland, this Government will set out clear arrangements for investigatory powers, updating existing legislation where necessary. This will ensure that law enforcement agencies have the powers that they need to do their job and keep Scotland safe, while also clarifying the limit of those powers and the extent of the controls over them.”
“The EU’s data retention laws privatised snooping, meaning companies were paid by governments to record what citizens were doing and retain that information for a year. We need to get back to a point where the police monitor people who are actually suspected of wrongdoing rather than wasting millions every year requiring data to be stored on an indiscriminate basis.”
What Can You do About it?
Open Rights Group are calling on us all to contact our MPs to make the following points:
- We are not currently in a national emergency so Parliament should not rush through emergency legislation. We need proper scrutiny by MPs, Peers and civil society.
- The European Court of Justice recently ruled blanket data retention incompatible with human rights legislation. New laws should comply with that judgment.
- The UK has an obligation to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights, which we have signed onto and which we should uphold as an example internationally.
You can do so here.
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