Former Metropolitan police chief Lord Blair has tabled a series of amendments to the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill that would effectively implement the twice-rejected Communications Data Bill.
The insertion of the proposals, which will compel telecoms companies to retain data about customer calls and internet usage for one year, comes after Prime Minister David Cameron vowed to crack down on encrypted communications over the internet. “In our country, do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we cannot read?” he asked rhetorically in justification.
The proposals will also give the government powers to “impose requirements or restrictions on telecommunications operators… by notice of the Secretary of State”.
The Bill demands that telecoms operators are able to provide data demanded by “relevant public authorities… without undue delay”. Indeed, the Bill also includes the power to compel telecoms operators to install and use “specified standards”, “use or maintain specified equipment or systems”, and “to use specified techniques”. Communications data will have to be held for at least 12 months.
Commentary online was predictably scathing. Liberal Democrat peer Lord Strasburger (@LordStras) tweeted, “This is a small group of security-at-all-costs peers trying to re-invent #SnoopersCharter. Must not and will not succeed.”
He added that the party was in favour of “very intrusive surveillance of bad guys”, but against “unlimited prying on the rest of us”.
The Open Rights Group, meanwhile, described the series of amendments to an already long and convoluted piece of legislation as “an abuse of procedure”.
It continued: “The draft Communications Data Bill, which is inserted by the amendment in nearly identical form, was scrutinised by a joint committee of the Lords and Commons for a year. The Committee agreed unanimously that the draft was inappropriate. None of their concerns are addressed in the clauses presented.”
The measures will finally implement the European Union’s Data Retention Directive of 2006, which successive governments have tried and failed to implement into UK law.
When in opposition, Prime Minister David Cameron opposed the Labour government’s own Communications Data Bill – only to backtrack after the coalition was elected in May 2010.
More recently following the Islamist terrorist attacks on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo, he pledged to make implementation of such laws a non-negotiable element of any coalition after the next elections in May.
The effective absorption of the Communications Data Bill in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill would remove a potentially tricky sticking point for both Cameron and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, who has voiced opposition to it, despite being part of a government that sought its implementation in 2012 and 2013.