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March 07, 2013 | Ed Paton Williams

Snoopers' Charter: We need a consultation!

The Joint Committee on the Communications Data Bill instructed the Home Office to run a consultation on communications data. They've failed to do so. We need your help to tell the Home Office why we need a consultation. We've created an online submission page to make it as easy as possible to contact the Home Office.


Tell the Home Office why you should be consulted about the Communications Data Bill.

In December 2012, a Joint Committee of MPs and Lords reported on the Government’s draft Communications Data Bill, also known as the Snoopers’ Charter. Under the Bill, internet companies like BT, Virgin Media and Sky would monitor all of their customers' email and internet use. Law enforcement agencies would then be able to search this data to help them with investigations.

One of the Joint Committee's main criticisms was that the Home Office hadn't consulted widely enough on their plans before publishing the draft Bill. The last Home Office consultation on communications data had been run three years previously in 2009. Following widespread opposition to the Government's plans that were laid out in that consultation, the 2009 proposals were quickly dropped.

In their report, the Joint Committee said that the Home Office should learn its lesson and that "before  re-drafted  legislation  is  introduced  there  should  be  a  new  round  of consultation  with  technical  experts,  industry,  law  enforcement  bodies,  public authorities and  civil  liberties groups ... Meaningful consultation can take place only once there is clarity as to the real aims of the Home Office, and clarity as to the expected use of the powers under the Bill." The Joint Committee was very clear that rigorous consultation was necessary before the Home Office could present a new Bill to Parliament.

Unfortunately, such a consultation hasn't happened. Rather than conducting the crucial consultation that the Joint Committee called for, the Home Office has held piecemeal meetings with industry and civil society groups. Despite this lack of consultation, the Home Office is redrafting a new Bill and details have not been released. It's difficult to give feedback on proposals that haven't been published yet.

This just isn't good enough. The draft Bill contained significant changes to the law on communications data. It made considerable demands of internet companies and it wasn't clear how effectively those demands could be met. The Joint Committee's report, as well as many of the groups that gave evidence to the committee, thought that the Bill's impact on civil liberties needed significant consideration.

The Home Office needs to hear evidence on these issues and many others before it can proceed with the Bill. So far though, the Home Office has shown no desire to seek out outside views on communications data and the Communications Data Bill. Unless organisations and individuals with an interest in the Communications Data Bill demand that the Home Office consult them, the Bill will likely progress without the external input it desperately requires.

Open Rights Group is asking organisations and individuals to get in touch with the Home Office to demand they are consulted on communications data and the Communications Data Bill. The Joint Committee told the Home Office to consult but they've failed to do so. There's a wide range of views on what laws on communications data should look like and it's important that the Home Office hears them.

The Home Office dropped plans to legislate on communications data in 2009 after widespread opposition so they've shown that under enough pressure they're open to outside influence. If enough organisations and individuals contact them demanding to be consulted on communications data, the Home Office will have to run the consultation the Joint Committee called for.

We've created an online submission page to make it as easy as possible to contact the Home Office. Click here to tell the Home Office why you should be consulted about the Communications Data Bill.

Open Rights Group has prepared a much more detailed briefing on communications data, the draft Communications Data Bill, the Joint Committee's report and why this consultation is needed. Click here if you want more information before contacting the Home Office.

If you want any more information or have any other questions about the Communications Data Bill, feel free to contact Open Rights Group at campaigns@openrightsgroup.org

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