Prime Minister David Cameron has moved to rapidly implement emergency powers covering communications surveillance by police and security services that have been compared by critics to a snoopers charter.
The urgent action, which is backed by all three major political parties, was discussed at a press conference held by Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg as he explained that it was to protect the public from “criminals, paedophiles and terrorists”.
Cameron defended the move by stating that it isn’t about introducing new wide-ranging snooping powers and is instead to maintain existing laws that are at threat due to a ruling by the European Court of Justice [CJEU].
"I am simply not prepared to be a prime minister who has to address the people after a terrorist incident and explain that I could have done more to prevent it,” Cameron said, according to the BBC. "This is about restoring two vital measures ensuring that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies maintain the right tools to keep us all safe."
In a nutshell the legislation outlines certain companies’ legal obligation to retain “communications data” on customers. This means vast logs of when calls were made, the numbers that were dialled and other information, however, it doesn’t include the actual content of the calls. It also adds the ability for a “legal intercept” to be applied that means a target identified for additional monitoring can have calls listened to and other communications examined in more detail.
The government was forced to implement the Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill to clarify the law after the CJEU struck down a European Union directive that required phone and Internet companies to retain data for a year before destroying it. The EU argued that not doing this infringed human rights and as such the UK government decided to take this emergency action.
Privacy campaigners have attacked the emergency law and complained that there is no legal basis for what the government has done.
"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,” stated Jim Killock, executive director 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."
The new powers will be pushed through parliament in seven days instead of the several months that it usually takes and the next government will be forced to take a closer look at the situation in 2016 – when the emergency legislation expires.