The Draft Communications Data Bill (nicknamed the Snoopers’ Charter) is draft legislation proposed by the Home Secretary Theresa May which would require Internet service providers and mobile phone companies such as BT, Virgin and Sky to maintain records (but not the content) of each user’s internet browsing activity (including social media), email correspondence, voice calls, internet gaming, and mobile phone messaging services and store the records for 12 months.
Naturally, there has been much opposition to the bill, which has already been rejected twice. Arguments against it include that it is overly intrusive, and infringes upon civil liberties, as well as it posing a security risk, and possibly benefiting cyber-criminals who could make use of the information the government acquires should they be able to hack it. The recent hacks at Sony should indicate that information on a computer is not always safe.
For such reasons, the Liberal Democrats were always strongly opposed to the bill, but in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris, Nick Clegg has agreed with a claim by former head of M15 Lord Evans that UK terrorism laws need updating, as they are “no longer fit for purpose.” He has said of the Draft Communications Data Bill “Lots of experts looked at it and said this is a waste of resources, a waste of time. Why are we keeping records of every man, woman and child across the country when for starters, we tend to know where to look for the people who want to do us harm?” Though the Deputy Prime Minister does feel that “New powers will need to be put on the statute book in the next parliament, and (he) will advocate them as much as any chisel-faced securocrat.”
Hitting back at more authoritarian views, Clegg has said that the idea that “people who care about our freedom don’t care about our safety” is “ludicrous”, but says that the balance needs to be found between keeping the nation safe and infringing upon civil liberties and rights.
The Conservative Party continue to try and push for the passing of the bill, and Theresa May has said that “innocent lives will be put at risk” without data surveillance. She has defended the snoopers charter by stating “It is allowing the police and the security services – under a tightly regulated and controlled regime – to find out the who, when, where and how of a communication – but not its content.”
The leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband has rejected calls for an immediate revival of the snooper’s charter in the UK in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris in January 2015, and it is to be said that Labour –as a party- generally are quite skeptical of it. He feels a “cautious and considered” approach is the one to take. Miliband had made the case back in 2010 in his first speech as Labour leader that his party needed to rethink its approach to civil liberties, saying that “Protecting the public involves protecting all their freedoms.” And he “(wouldn’t) let the Tories or the Liberals take ownership of the British tradition of liberty. I want our party to reclaim that tradition.” Almost five years later on the Andrew Marr Show, he has said “We have got to look at both areas. We have got to look at: do our intelligence services have the tools they need? But equally, do we have the proper oversight to guarantee the liberties of free citizens? After all, one of the things we want to protect most of all here is our freedoms. So we should defend our freedoms also making sure that the security services have what is necessary to counter that threat and defend that freedom.”
The bill was put to debate in the House Of Lords recently, with the Green party Peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, expressing her view that the police and other security services already have powers that go “far beyond what they need.” There was no clear conclusion that was reached, and the Labour home affairs spokeswoman Baroness Smith of Basildon said that the clauses had not been “properly discussed or debated” .She called on the minister to provide detailed alternative proposals to allow security services to access online communications data when he responds to the debate. It seems we will have to wait further to see whether this controversial bill passes and what powers it will give the government.
By Mia Sapla