Categorized | Civil Liberties

Snoopers Charter

Snoopers Charter

Back in May 2010 a Tory and Liberal coalition agreement was produced at break-neck speed. Section 10 of the agreement was about civil liberties. The preamble stated: “The parties agree to implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour government and roll back state intrusion.”

The protection of freedoms bill was a promising start. Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said: “This is a landmark bill which will result in an unprecedented rolling back of the power of the state. The protection of freedoms bill brings together a huge range of measures to restore the hard-won British liberties that have been lost in recent years.”

But then the realities of government kicked in and a radical change of direction, including proposals to modernise the capability of the police and security services to track internet and mobile phone use. The proposals proved most controversial within the coalition and were widely criticised, so much so that they were removed from the fast tracked crime and courts bill into a stand alone bill. Rather than allow home secretary May to ram her communications data bill through parliament, Clegg insisted that it go through the full panoply of a formal pre-legislative scrutiny by a joint committee of both houses and by the intelligence and security committee. It meant that no legislation appeared during the first session of the coalition government, and when a bill finally appeared in June it was in draft form.

The scrutiny committee, chaired by Lord Blencathra, a former Conservative minister, has savaged the home secretary’s bill. It found that the categories of data required to be collected are so extensive that the bill risks trampling on the privacy of citizens. It is especially damning in its description of the “request filter” at the heart of the new communications data tracking system. This it describes as “essentially a federated database of all UK citizens’ communication data.”

It said the bill must be completely rewritten to meet their substantial concerns about its scope, ineffective safeguards, cost and lack of wider consultation. The committee described the home office’s estimated price tag of £1.8bn over 10 years, to help postal services and other communications providers with the cost of installing new equipment to comply with any laws, and much of its analysis backing its case as “fanciful and misleading.”

Even the more conservative intelligence and security committee, appointed by the prime minister, reached for its stock of brickbats. It said May’s draft needed more work, more consultation and a coherent explanation of what the data would be used for and the safeguards that would be in place. So its back to the drawing board for a radical rewrite.

The home secretary has insisted she remains determined to get it on the statute book before the next election. “Labour tried to bring a bill forward previously but they ducked the tough decision in the end. I am certain I am not going to duck that decision,” May said, apparently forgetting that her scheme is pretty much the same as that which David Cameron had attacked when Labour proposed it in office.

It is difficult to know whether the prime minister is naïve or hypocritical or both. Post-Leveson, he dismisses the idea that some kind of press legislation wouldn’t go amiss on the grounds that it could provide a precedent to be misused by future governments. So what’s the difference with the data bill? David, you can’t have it both ways.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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