The government has announced plans to rush through new legislation to monitor your phone and email records.
Downing Street says that the new law, which orders internet and telephone providers to retain your metadata for up to 12 months, will be introduced to parliament on Monday, just four days after it was announced.
Metadata includes those you contact and when you contact them, but not the content of the message. The government is being forced to act because a European court has said the basis for existing regulations is illegal.
But the UK government’s decision to push through new emergency legislation with no advance warning and little time for debate in parliament is proving controversial. Here’s why:
1. The government has known since 8 April that there is little legal basis for the UK regulations. But it is only acting now, right at the end of the parliamentary session.
In April the European Court of Justice said retaining such data breached “the right to privacy and the right to protection of personal data” and struck down the 2006 EU-wide Data Retention Directive.
It was this directive that provided the legal basis for the UK’s version of the same law, introduced in 2009, leaving the government open to a legal challenge.
For over three months the Home Office ordered companies to continue to store metadata and said it considered that the regulations “remain in place”.
But just one legal challenge to the high court could have seen the regulations declared illegal.
2. The government has waited until the last possible minute to announce the legislation.
Parliament is already winding up its business for the summer, and many MPs are already spending most of their time in their constituencies.
The House of Commons enters recess on 22 July, and the legislation must be passed by then if it is to be in place for the summer.
3. The actual text of the new law has still not been published and MPs haven’t seen it.
The legislation will be debated by MPs on Monday. But there will be little time for scrutiny since the actual text has yet to be published.
A draft law is promised on Thursday, and home secretary Theresa May says a final version will be presented just hours before Monday’s debate.
UPDATE: A draft of the bill has now been published.
4. Campaigning groups claim the government is only acting now because of a forthcoming legal challenge.
“Not only will the proposed legislation infringe our right to privacy, it will also set a dangerous precedent where the government simply re-legislates every time it disagrees with a decision by the CJEU [European Court of Justice],” said Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group. “The ruling still stands and these new plans may actually increase the amount of our personal data that is retained by ISPs, further infringing on our right to privacy.”
5. The prime minister has promised a “full debate on the floor of the House next week”.
But also insists it must be passed by parliament and be law within the next 10 days.
6. The new law already has the backing of the leaders of all major political parties thanks to a deal made behind closed doors, even though individual MPs have not seen it.
The bill, which has yet to be published, already has the backing of the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats and Labour.
“Serious criminal investigations and counter-terrorism intelligence operations must not be jeopardised,” Labour’s Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper said in a statement. “That is why we are supporting this emergency legislation, which we accept is designed solely to protect existing capabilities.”
7. The new law could still be struck down by European courts.
But because it is primary legislation the UK high court cannot rule on its legality. Instead it can only be struck down by European courts after another lengthy and expensive legal fight that could take years.
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