Here are some of the arguments that the Government is using to justify passing emergency data retention legislation - and the reasons why the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP) should not be rushed through Parliament. We are urging our supporters to call the House of Commons on 0207 219 3000 and demand that they vote against this legislation.
1. “This is an emergency”
The CJEU ruling was delivered on 8 April, 2014. The government has had 3 months to address the court’s findings. We believe that it is the threat of legal action by Open Rights Group and other organisations that has prompted this ‘emergency’ legislation - not the threat of terrorism or criminal activity — but any legal action would be unlikely to produce any result for at least seven months. The government should not mislead us about the urgency of this legislation. Given its significance and the threat to our civil liberties, It should not be passed without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
Background: After the CJEU ruling, Open Rights Group and other organisations contacted the Home Office to ask them if they would be asking internet service providers to stop retaining data. In May, the Home Office responded by saying that ISPs should continue to retain data. Last month, over 1,500 ORG supporters wrote to their ISPs asking them to stop keeping their data. They responded by saying that they were acting under the instructions of the Home Office.
2. “This is not an extension of powers, it’s restoring the status quo”
The Prime Minister said, “we are not introducing new powers or capabilities” but in fact DRIP does not just deal with Regulations that were made illegal by the CJEU ruling. Clauses 3 to 5 of the Bill make amendments to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). DRIP extends the government's surveillance powers in two ways:
It extends the territorial scope of RIPA - this means that the government can issue interception warrants for communications data to companies outside of the UK.
It extends the definition of “telecommunications service” within RIPA. This will include webmail services such as Gmail. What isn’t clear is what other kinds of internet services are included.
3. “It’s the only way we can catch criminals”
We agree that the targeted retention of communications data can help the police to tackle serious crimes, such as terrorism and child abuse. However, the CJEU ruling outlined a low threshold for deciding to retain data. For example, if a serious crime is committed, data could be retained for a particular geographical region to support a criminal investigation. This means that the police could still retain data for specific investigations, rather than the blanket surveillance of all citizens.
The CJEU ruling was clear that blanket data retention interfered with our right to privacy and our right to a private family life. Other European countries, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Romania and Sweden, have rejected it. These countries continue to tackle serious crime without undermining their citizens’ civil liberties through blanket data retention.
4. “There is a sunset clause”
The Bill will expire on 31 December 2016. The government claims that this will ‘strengthen oversight and transparency’ but that date is two and a half years away. We believe that this date needs to be brought forward to 31 December 2014 and this can be amended or repealed very easily. If legislation is to be rushed through without debate, an earlier expiry date of 31 December 2014 would allow for public scrutiny over the next six months. This is a reasonable request even for those MPs who believe that this is an emergency situation.
5. “The Bill includes concessions that take into account the CJEU ruling”
DRIP ignores the main part of the CJEU ruling - that blanket data retention severely interferes with the fundamental rights to respect for private life and to the protection of personal data. The government has claimed that other aspects of the Bill will strengthen oversight and transparency. For example, they claim it will restrict the number of public bodies that can request communications data. Yet this concession does not appear in DRIP or the secondary legislation that will implement it. There has been no acknowledgment of the legal requirement to preserve UK citizens’ right to privacy.
Call the House of Commons on 0207 219 3000 and ask your MP to vote against this legislation.