The second attempt in a week by a trio of security-establishment friendly peers to incorporate the so-called “snoopers’ charter” into the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill has been withdrawn following a renewed outcry.
The amendments introduced by Conservative peer Lord King, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile, form Labour minister responsible for the security services Lord West, and former Metropolitan Police chief Lord Blair had together tabled the amendments to the Bill, which effectively would have implemented the twice-rejected Communications Data Bill.
Although many elements of the Communications Data Bill were absorbed into the rushed Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Act, passed in July last year, the amendments would effectively complete the process. The DRIP Act was required after the EU’s Data Retention Directive of 2006 was declared invalid by the European Court of Justice.
The Communications Data Bill, which successive governments tried to pass in 2008 and 2012-13, but which were defeated by a national outcry, was effectively the UK implementation of the EU Data Retention Directive, which the UK government itself had pushed for in 2005.
The Communications Data Bill and the snoopers’ charter that the cross-party peers were attempting to incorporate into the latest anti-terrorism bill requires internet service providers, telecoms companies and even social media websites to retain usage records that police, the security services and other public bodies can access without requiring a warrant.
Critics argue that the measures give security services and police too much surveillance power and that they will ultimately be mis-used in the same way that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000 has become routinely mis-used by public sector bodies for the most banal, non-security related of reasons.
The peers were persuaded to withdraw their amendments for the second time as the government feared that their inclusion might scupper the whole course of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill.
However, the victory for privacy campaigners might be shortlived: Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to pass the snoopers’ charter should the Conservatives win the next election, or to make it a non-negotiable pre-condition for coalition, should there be a hung parliament.