Last night news broke that the government plans to push through “emergency” legislation to force phone and internet companies to keep records of calls and internet use. Yeah, that doesn’t sound ominous at all.
David Cameron explained the plans this morning by playing the scary terrorism card:
I'll be explaining today why emergency legislation is needed to maintain powers to help keep us safe from those who would harm UK citizens.
— David Cameron (@David_Cameron) July 10, 2014
Meanwhile Nick Clegg, of the party that used to be known for its stance on civil liberties has presumably been crawling on the floor, unable to stand for lack of a backbone.
The proposed law comes in response to the European Court of Justice slapping down the sorts of blanket surveillance that was uncovered by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. But rather than accept mass surveillance is a gross infringement on privacy and the antithesis of a free society, the government are, umm, just passing another law to continue it. The difference here seems to be that rather than the government retain the data itself, service providers will instead be required to do so.
Perhaps the scariest part about this is the fact that not even our MPs will get a chance to scrutinise the legislation before it is enacted. Heck – most won’t even get a chance to read it before voting, as it is the result of a stitch-up between the three party leaders agreeing what to do behind closed doors.
MP Tom Watson, who is a great supporter of digital rights, wrote a post explaining what is at stake:
“If you look on Parliament’s web site tonight, you will not see the name, nor the text of the Bill to be considered.”
“None of your elected backbench MPs have been told what Bill is to be debated on Monday. It’s Wednesday evening. Tomorrow, MPs are on a ‘one line whip’ ie they can return to their constituencies this evening.”
“Imagine how outrageous it would be, if tomorrow, the government were to announce emergency legislation to an empty chamber. Imagine if that emergency legislation was to be introduced on Monday or Tuesday, with the intention of it slipping through the Commons and the Lords in a single day. Imagine if that Bill was the deeply controversial Data Retention Bill.”
“It’s a Bill that will override the views of judges who have seen how the mass collection of your data breaches the human rights of you and your family.”
“Regardless of where you stand on the decision of the European Court of Justice, can you honestly say that you want a key decision about how your personal data is stored to be made by a stitch up behind closed doors and clouded in secrecy?”
Similarly Jim Killock, the executive director of the Open Rights Group has waded in. His group recently threatened legal action against the government if they tried to re-introduce surveillance laws:
“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. 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.”
“Blanket surveillance needs to end. That is what the court has said.”
So it appears that for all of the outrage following Edward Snowden’s revelations, the government are going to continue doing the same thing anyway. Perhaps it is time for the internet nerds to get political?