UK government plans emergency data retention law

July 10, 2014 // 9:47 a.m.

Tags: #data-retention-directive #david-cameron #ecj #european-court-of-justice #european-union #labour #nick-clegg #privacy #tom-watson

The UK government is to rush emergency legislation, which has not been seen by MPs, through parliament in order to reverse a European Court ruling that rendered the retention of personal data by internet service providers (ISPs) illegal.

The European Court of Justice recently issued a ruling on the Data Retention Directive which demanded limits on what data can be kept by ISPs and for how long. The ruling stated, in part, that people whose communications must be confidential for legal reasons - such as doctor-patient privilege - must be granted exceptions, access to the stored data should only be available during investigation of strictly-defined serious crimes, said access should be limited to only the data strictly necessary to investigate the crime, and that an independent administrator should be appointed to make such decisions.

The UK government's current approach to data retention does not meet the ECJ's requirements, but it has told ISPs to continue collecting, retaining and providing government officials with access to the data illegally. It has a plan to fix that, however: a rushed change to the law that would make its data retention legal once more, and without proper parliamentary debate.

A meeting scheduled for today will see David Cameron and Nick Clegg tell a special cabinet that the new law must be passed in order to 'keep the country safe,' the BBC reports. The law will also include the establishment of a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which recently jailed an individual for refusing to divulge his encryption passwords, and a 'sunset' clause that will see the law changed again in 2016.

Despite these assurances, privacy advocates are displeased with the way debate on the law has been stifled. Speaking to the Today programme, Labour MP Tom Watson - whose party has declared support for the law - called it 'a secret deal between party leaders. There hasn’t been a bill published and yet we find out this morning, when Parliament is on one-line whip and MPs are in their constituencies, that next week they will railroad emergency legislation to put right a decision made by the European Court of Justice that the current legislation was beyond human rights law. Now, that doesn’t seem right to me.

'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,
' he added in a blog post. '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.'
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