July 10, 2014 | Ruth Coustick-Deal

“Emergency” Data Retention: What I told my MP

Today we launched a campaign to ask MPs to stop the 'emergency' Data Retention legislation.

The European Court of Justice ruled in April that blanket data retention, which the government requires of ISPs, is illegal and ignores the fundamental rights to privacy and data protection. However, rather than take the time to debate and redraft the law, they are pushing through a new Bill in record time: released today and put before Parliament on Monday.

It's incredibly disappointing to see the UK Government so determined to ignore a ruling on human rights. Since we have had a year of revelations as to how GCHQ ignore the right to privacy I find it particularly galling that David Cameron wants to push forward with legislation like this, directly in the face of our human rights and the international outrage over Internet snooping.

That's why I wrote to my MP about this issue as soon as our action went live. I've kept my email pretty brief and emphasised the way this Bill is circumventing the democratic process. I know not every MP thinks the same as me on digital issues like the Snowden leaks or the importance of anonymity. But I believe they should all care about doing their job as Members of Parliament, to scrutinise and debate and question.

If you'd like to write to your MP with a letter like mine and ask them to stop this rushed legislation, here are the 4 key points I've used: 

  1. Emergency legislation should only be for a genuine national emergency. We are not currently in an emergency so Parliament should take its time.
  2. The only threat is that of legal action as the Government wishes to continue with blanket data retention which the CJEU recently ruled incompatible with human rights.
  3. 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.
  4. It doesn't matter whether you agree or not with the contents of the Bill. This hasn't undergone the proper scrutiny and all MPs should care about being given the opportunity to have their say.

Here's my letter:

Dear Anne Main MP,
I'm writing to you about the emergency data retention legislation the Government have announced today.

I know that you are a Conservative MP and may well agree, or be whipped into agreeing with the contents of this Bill. However, I would urge you to push back on the timeframe on this legislation. Emergency legislation should be when we are under a genuine viable threat.

As I see it, the only threat is the Government failing to comply with a European Court of Justice ruling that existing Data Retention laws are incompatible with human rights - and facing a lawsuit as a consequence. There are big questions being discussed about the balance of privacy, security, data laws, and the purposes and needs of our police and security services. I would welcome these being aired in public, through a proper process of debates and scrutiny in which you and all MPs are involved. Please stand back against this legislation being rushed through in a day.

Thank you very much.

Ruth Coustick-Deal

Comments (13)

  1. Guthrie:
    Jul 10, 2014 at 04:15 PM

    I've written much the same to Simon Hughes. I'm completely appalled that all sides are so go-ho to pass 'whatever' this bill will entail without proper discussion. I was on the look out for someone taking up the issue and appreciate that Open Righs Group have taken up the mantel.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. David:
    Jul 10, 2014 at 05:02 PM

    I share Anne Main as an MP, and have written in a similar vain. Lets hope we can stir up enough revolt to at least get a proper reading.

  3. Frankie Fisher:
    Jul 10, 2014 at 05:04 PM

    If this was a genuine emergency, a 3-6 month sunset clause would be absolutely sufficient to shuffle parliamentary time around to make room for 3 proper readings of a properly debated and thought through bill.

    In practice it looks like its going to be a Digital Rights Act stitchup all over again.

  4. Andrew Vassely:
    Jul 10, 2014 at 08:23 PM

    What was the stitch up with the DRA?

    What I want to know is.. why is Clegg suddenly in favour of this? Isn't this the Draft Communications Bill again - which he said not FORTY EIGHT HOURS AGO that he'd block again? Or is it different in some way?

  5. GoddersUK:
    Jul 11, 2014 at 12:59 AM

    Andrew: I assume by "Draft Communications Bill" you're referring to the communications data bill (CDB, https://wiki.openrightsgroup.org/wiki/Communications_Data_Bill) rather than the communications bill, which is different (https://wiki.openrightsgroup.org/wiki/Communications_Bill); someone in Whitehall should have been a bit more imaginative with the naming really...

    The DRIP legislation (the current "emergency" legislation) aims to reinstate existing powers that were recently ruled unlawful by the ECJ; albeit on a UK, rather than EU-wide, level. Unfortunately for them it'll still be illegal... I believe they've done this because of the fear that ISPs et al won't collect data if they're not obligated to - either because it's too much effort or because they fear the legal consequences under data protection legislation (it seems they're responding to ORGs lawsuits with a middle finger...).

    The communications data bill would have introduced "new", far wider ranging powers that the government did not already possess. Although, thanks to Snowden, we've found out they were actually doing that all along and the CDB would just have legalised existing government behaviour.

    Sadly the current government (and most of the opposition) seem to believe they are above the law; and we have precious few MPs on either side (although, at least, on both sides) of the political fence who are willing to stand up and say the government must abide by the law :(

  6. GoddersUK:
    Jul 11, 2014 at 01:01 AM

    You'll need to remove excess punctuation (parentheses/semi colon) on the hyperlinks above, sorry.

  7. Jim Killock:
    Jul 11, 2014 at 07:48 AM


  8. Claire:
    Jul 11, 2014 at 12:13 PM

    Found this petition on the Government's e-petitions site. If we could get more than 100,000 signatures, it'd force a debate! http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/67382

  9. Andrew Vassely:
    Jul 11, 2014 at 12:52 PM

    Thanks Godders. So... why are we not calling for this to be dropped completely - for the third time in a row?? (First in 2012), the other last year (then it all went quiet) after Drummer Rigby's death.

    We caan't call for amendments - Mr. Killock, this is to you, this bit - we need to call for it to be dropped!

    And also, even though the ECJ has ruled it lllegal... so what?

    Correct me if I'm wrong on this:
    There's nothing they can do to stop the Government from passing more mass data retention laws, and they can easily pay out legal fees no problem, even if this ruling does indeed say that such laws are not allowed ever again. All the ECJ can do is strike those down in an endless tug-of-war.

    The only thing they can do is issue a Declaration of Incompatibility - is that really nothing more than a sternly worded letter, or does it mean our judges WILL NOT comply with Parliament or the Gov and enforce the law in question?

    Not that it has any effect in this case because the justice system has nothing to enforce as left out of it entirely (no warrant safeguards, no nowt, apart from that one Intercept Commisioner, which means either he refuses the mass warrants from now on or he sets a criteria of, say, no more thna a hundred people per one, or something else restrictive)..

    But it's worth asking, because that answers whether or not the ECJ, for all its posturing - even if they're in the right - is worth anything.

    My point is, what actual inhibiting effect will the ruling have to stop Gov from passing and enforicng yet more such laws? Will our judges be able to back that up in some way? Because if they aren't able to then that makes a mockery of an independent justice system, and the aim of making it hard to enforce this sort ruling, I bet, is why they try and avoid the courts entirely save for the one fellow who rubber stamps warrants for a quarter of a million peopel at a time.

    (Emphasising waste of taxpayers money probably won't work because it's against Europe that the money is being spent (though it's worth a shot) - also it's less important than the issue of rights, but it's a sort of supplementary argument.)

  10. Alan Hudson:
    Jul 11, 2014 at 01:38 PM

    Wow! I contacted my MP @CarolineLucas on #DRIP - Data Retention and Investigation Powers - last night and I got a response today.

    Dear Alan,

    Thank you for getting in touch. Let me start by saying that I am wholly opposed to the Government's proposals to require communications service providers to continue the blanket retention of our data.

    It's worrying enough that this has been going on at all, and deeply disturbing that the Government wants to continue despite the practice having been ruled in breach of our fundamental human rights. Please be assured I will be voting against the Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill on Tuesday, and also working with the small group of other MPs who share my position to try to amend it. There is cross party support for the legislation from the Coalition and the official opposition, so any amendments will probably be focussed on timescales and securing an earlier expiry date than is currently proposed.

    If I get the opportunity to speak during the debate I will set out my objection to the Bill and the blanket retention of data. In particular I will highlight the fact that the Home Secretary's claims that this level of intelligence gathering is needed to keep citizens safe are untested and unproven. And I'll make the strong human rights arguments highlighted by the European Court ruling, as well as setting out how easily the lines between type and content can be blurred when retaining data on this scale.

    Not only is this a bad law – it’s bad law making. In their desperate bid to railroad this law through, all three big political parties are knowingly undermining due process and the importance of proper Parliamentary scrutiny. When governments want to undertake large scale infringement of the individual’s right to privacy by allowing records of all our communications to be kept as a matter of course we need that scrutiny more than ever. So I'll also be using Tuesday's debate to object to the way in which this Bill is being squeezed into the parliamentary schedule and the way MPs are being given limited opportunities to read, digest and amend it too.

    I hope that assures you that I will be doing all I can to get the Government to think again before it gives the green light to continued snooping on our every email, phone call and text message. Thank you for getting in touch and do let me know if I can help with anything else or you need any additional information.

    Best wishes, Caroline

  11. K Challinor:
    Jul 11, 2014 at 02:54 PM

    I tried using the on line form and got a 'Contact not found' error

    So I sent the following to my MP by email

    Dear Sir,

    This legislation is being classed as emergency legislation, however we are not at war, there is no state of emergency, the only reason for rushing this bill through is because of a court case that may cause ISP's to delete data they've already collected.

    We are being told this is for the purpose of restoring the data retention requirements on ISP's after the ECHR ruling that blanket retention of such data is illegal.

    The UK is obliged to comply with this ruling so future laws should comply with this, not seek to nullify it.

    However this bill goes much further, section 1(3) & 1(4) effectively grant the Home Secretary carte blanche to enact further changes.

    Such changes will not need parliamentary notification or approval.

    Passing this bill will allow the Home Secretary to require monitoring of communication content as well as metadata, retain this indefinitely, and disclose it to whom they wish.

    As for this bill being limited until the end of 2016, can you assure me the supposed emergency will have passed by then or will some reason be found to retain these extra powers ?

    I suggest they will be retained.

    This bill, in its present form, grants too much power to a single individual, it is being rushed through parliament without consultation or any substantial debate and it is contrary to ECHR rulings that we are obliged to comply with.

    I realise you will probably be constrained by the party whip to vote for this bill, but I strongly urge you to vote against it.


  12. GoddersUK:
    Jul 13, 2014 at 01:19 AM

    Here's the reply I received from Ed Vaizey (Wantage), if anyone's keeping tabs:

    Dear [GoddersUK],

    Many thanks for your email about the emergency Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill.

    I appreciate your concerns on this issue. No-one introduces fast-track legislation lightly, but the consequences of not acting are grave. Communications data and interception helps keep people safe from terrorists and other serious, dangerous criminals. Communications data is used in 95 per cent of all serious and organised crime prosecutions, and every major counter-terrorism investigation over the last decade.

    If we do not act, we face losing these powers that are used to counter the threats we face from terrorists and organised criminals. The European Court of Justice has struck down regulations that let internet and phone companies retain communications data for law enforcement purposes for up to 12 months. As well as this, some companies are calling for a clearer legal framework to underpin their cooperation with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to intercept what terrorists and serious criminals are saying to each other. This is the ability to access content with a warrant signed by a Secretary of State.

    The emergency Data Retention and Investigatory Powers 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 the concerns of some companies. It is a narrow and limited response to the set of specific challenges we face. It solves the immediate problems at hand. Importantly, the Bill includes a termination clause so it will fall at the end of 2016 – forcing the Government to look again at these powers.

    You may also be interested to know that the Government has introduced a number of measures as part of the Bill which will strengthen the oversight of intelligence powers. Between now and 2016, the Government will review the Regulation of Investigatory Power Act to make recommendations to reform and update it. The Government is also establishing a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to ensure civil liberties are properly considered when the Government sets counter-terrorism policy.

    The Government is also restricting the number of public bodies that can ask for communications data and publishing annual transparency reports. This will make more information publicly available than ever before.

    I believe that the action this Government is taking will ensure we maintain powers to help keep us safe from those who would harm UK citizens.

    Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

    Yours sincerely,

    Ed Vaizey MP

    Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries

    Member of Parliament for Wantage and Didcot

    Kudos to him for actually mentioning the key issues - the "fast track" approach and the ECJ ruling - although I'm not exactly convinced by his justifications on those points.

  13. Andrew Vassely:
    Jul 13, 2014 at 03:50 AM

    Now you need to go through that with a fine tooth comb and ask for the sources of those statements of figures (e.g. the 95%). Then see what he responds with in order to decide wether or not to be convinced.