There is a great deal in the news this morning about the proposed Data Retention Bill. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and my colleague Julian Huppert MP have been out in the press explaining what is happening and why.
A number of residents have understandably already contacted me asking for further information. Here is an update…
A recent European Court of Justice judgement has changed the obligations of companies to keep information on communications (in short – the Court threw out the Data Retention directive, meaning companies are no longer obliged to retain certain types of data).
If companies were to start deleting this data, our police security services may no longer be able to retrieve information from the communications and data of terrorists or other dangerous individuals.
All three main parties (Lib Dem, Conservative, Labour) have come together to agree an urgent Bill, that will oblige companies to continue to retain the data, and keep the powers that the security services and police already have.
I remain, as do my Lib Dem colleagues, against any expansion of surveillance powers. Some people want to use this situation to bring back the appalling Communications Data Bill – the Tory plans dubbed the Snoopers’ Charter – but I can guarantee that this will not happen. The Lib Dems blocked that already last year, and we would do so again.
As Julian Huppert has recently said – “We must keep our country and citizens safe, but not by eroding our civil liberties…We need legislation to allow communications data to be available, but not to store more than is already allowed”.
The Data Retention Bill will be a stop-gap, and built into it is an end date of 2016. There are also a number of other safeguards, including a new Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, restrictions on the number of government bodies that can access the data, and the introduction of annual transparency reports. These are all extras negotiated and secured by the Lib Dems in Government.
The Lib Dems are also campaigning to bring legislation on digital issues into the 21st century through schemes like our Digital Bill of Rights motion.
The current situation is not perfect – frankly at present there is no perfect solution. But, to repeat, this Bill will not expand data retention powers, and this is thanks to Nick Clegg and Lib Dem Home Office minister Norman Baker – who negotiated doggedly for this and for the extra safeguards mentioned.
The Lib Dems in government have a proud record on civil liberties – scrapping ID cards, ending 28 day detention, and curtailing stop and search. If we were in power on our own we would have done more, but we will keep pushing to ensure the UK is the world leader on civil liberties, whilst also keeping the country as safe as possible from threats.