10 Jul 2014

New surveillance law: expanded powers to snoop?

After an EU ruling from April questioned current UK data law, the government wants to force through an emergency law allowing telecoms companies to go on collecting and storing data.

All three main parties support the proposed emergency legislation that will allow phone and internet companies to keep collecting and storing our metadata, backing the prime minister’s statement said it was essential to catch criminals, terrorists and paedophiles.

The planned Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (or #Drip, as it’s been coined) is in response to a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling in April, which essentially ruled that what’s happening in the UK – under the Data Retention Regulations Act of 2009 – was illegal.

The EU ruling in April effectively opened the door to phone and internet companies being accused of illegality for collecting data.

The government said the companies needed more clarity, and that without “Drip”, crucial intelligence on terror suspects was at risk of being deleted under the EU ruling.

So it wants to push through an emergency law to legalise the storing of metadata for 12 months. The law will only last for the next two years, allowing time to bring in further legislation and ensuring it will be reviewed in 2016.

Video: Theresa May tells the MPs that the package of measures will “reassure the public that their rights to security and privacy are equally protected.”

But after the draft bill was published, there were some concerns that new proposals appear to be an expansion – not just a preservation – of the 2009 bill. Individual MPs have also raised doubts over the fact the it is an “emergency” bill, which means there is far less time for debate, and changes, to what the government has proposed.

Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group said earlier: “The government is tacitly admitting that our current data retention laws are illegal and that they are required to re-legislate. The European Court has ruled that data retention should be limited and blanket retention cannot be justified because it interferes with our right to privacy.

“However Theresa May actually wants to increase the amount of communications data that is kept about us.”

The new bill in full – what do you think? Tell us @channel4news

Fighting crime – one bit of data at a time

The data this bill is concerned with, and that companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are collecting, is metadata: when it comes to a text for example, this means the time it was sent, who it was sent to, where you were when you sent it, and the device you were using. It does not mean the content of the message – the home office needs a warrant to access this.

But the government says that metadata is crucial to fighting crime: Downing Street said communications data has been used in 95 per cent of all serious organised crime cases handled by the Crown Prosecution Service, and added:

“It is particularly important for targeting serious criminals, including drug dealers, paedophiles and fraudsters. It has also been used to stop crimes in action and save lives, and to prevent miscarriages of justice.”

On the other hand, privacy campaigners say metadata is more than enough information to piece together crucial information about an individual’s life: their network of friends, where they live or work, and their daily habits.

To find out what information is sent out by your phone every day, watch the video below on the Secret Life of Smartphones:

‘It is an emergency’

Speaking to the press, David Cameron said passing the new law was a matter of urgency: “If we don’t deal with data retention issues, mobile phone companies could start deleting comms data… fairly rapidly, and we could loose all that data.” He added: “It is an emergency.”

Downing Street issued a major statement on the emergency legislation this morning, saying they are responding to calls for a clearer legal framework from companies.

Here is how they explained what would happen: “The emergency Data Retention and Investigation Powers (Drip) Bill will enable agencies to maintain existing capabilities. It will respond to the ECJ judgment on data retention and bring clarity to existing law in response to CSP’s requests.

“Without action, our law enforcement and intelligence agencies will lose sight of data that is crucial for protecting national security and preventing serious crime, and lose track of some dangerous individuals as a result.”

Home Secretary Theresa May told the Commons that in order to “reassure the public that their rights to security and privacy are equally protected”, the government would:
• Reduce the number of public authorities that are able to access communications data
• Publish an annual transparency report
• Appoint a senior former diplomat to discuss data sharing with foreign law enforcement agencies
• Establish a privacy and civil liberties board, based on a US model
• Review that interception and data powers needed by the state

The new bill is being supported by the Liberal Democrats – despite the party’s opposition to last year’s proposed communications bill – and Labour. Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, have written a joint letter to Labour MPs: “UK legislation needs to change to be compliant with EU law. If these changes are not made, the police are likely to suddenly lose vital evidence this summer.”

But not all Labour MPs are on board. Tom Watson tweeted last night:

In response to Tom Watson’s comments in the House of Commons, Ms May said: “the fact that all parties within this House .. are supporting this just shows the serious nature of the issues that we face and the importance of dealing with them.”