In Depth

Drip data law: how it will affect you

Critics say the 'emergency' Drip data law will allow scrutiny of Facebook, iCloud, email and text messages

Privacy campaigners and lawyers have warned that the government's emergency Drip data law will provides "sweeping" new powers that will affect everyone in the UK, despite assurances from David Cameron that the bill is intended only to maintain previous laws and practices.

The Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill (Drip) was proposed as an "emergency" measure last week after the European Court of Justice ruled in April that the UK's previous legislation on data retention had gone too far.

The Bill requires that all internet service providers and mobile network operators store customers' metadata for twelve months in case they are requested by law enforcement officers.

Critics of Drip argue that some of its clauses will serve to extend the powers of police and the secret services to intercept phone calls, emails and text messages with changes to a set of laws known as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa).

Three of the five clauses in the Bill refer directly to Ripa: the first aims to prevent the UK from intercepting calls for the benefit of the country's "economic well-being" but the second and third clauses extend Ripa to cover non-UK companies and expand the definition of "telecommunication services" to include "companies who provide internet-based services", The Independent says.

Critics argue that these clauses greatly extend the government's power to intercept communication. Some say that the changes would bring webmail services such as Gmail and social networks such as Facebook within Ripa's scope, allowing authorities to scrutinise private communication conducted via those services.

According to The Guardian, Labour and the Liberal Democrats were "persuaded to go along with it all … by the vow that the new legislation provided for no new powers at all".

But David Allen Green, the head of media practice at Preiskel and Co told The Independent that such assurances are nonsense. "They're trying to make out this is clarificatory – but if you read through the Bill these are substantial amendments," he said. "They are creating things legally that weren't there before."

The laws also cover "any remote storage" says Graham Smith, a lawyer specialising in the internet. This means that any photos or documents uploaded to consumer services like iCloud and Google Drive could be viewed by the government.

In a blog post on the Bill, Smith argues that at the very least the new law deserves more extensive debate in the House of Commons. "It is exactly the type of provision that deserves the fullest Parliamentary scrutiny," Smith says.

Clegg has promised a "poison pill" clause that will repeal the legislation at the end of 2016, but as The Register notes, it is unclear how effective that clause will be once parliament is reconstituted after the next General Election.

Labour MP Tom Watson described the new laws as a "stitch-up" and criticised the manner with which the legislation is being introduced.Supporters of the bill say the powers are necessary to maintain powers required by the security services to monitor and disrupt terrorist threats.

Emergency data law: does UK need rushed 'anti-terror' bill?

10 July

The government is set to announce plans to rush through emergency legislation that will force phone and internet companies to keep records of users' online activities as well as customers' calls and text messages.

Critics say that the bill presents a threat to people's civil liberties. Below is an overview of what the bill proposes and why it is being pushed through so swiftly.

What is the Data Retention Bill?

The proposed emergency legislation will underpin the British government's right to hold onto personal data kept by internet and phone companies, The Guardian reports.

The law is being rushed through after the European Court of Justice ruled in April that the UK's previous legislation on data retention had gone too far and amounted to an invasion of privacy.

After cross-party consultation on the bill, Labour and the coalition parties are said to be willing to support the legislation because they believe it will restore the law that existed before the intervention of the ECJ. In Labour's view, the bill does not introduce any new rights or powers and will not re-introduce the so-called "snoopers charter".

What else does will the bill do?

According to the BBC, the new law will also:

  • Create a new board that will monitor the impact of the law on both privacy and civil liberties,
  • Introduce an annual transparency report that details how the powers are being used,
  • Guarantee a full review of the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, known as RIPA
  • Include a so-called "sunset clause" – the bill will expire in 2016, at which point the government would have to seek Parliament's approval to renew it.
Why is it controversial?

In an online critique, Labour MP Tom Watson argues that the new laws "override the views of judges who have seen how the mass collection of your data breaches the human rights of you and your family". The bill is being approved, Watson says, through a "stitch up behind closed doors". No MPs have even read the legislation, let alone been able to scrutinise it, he adds.

Other critics say that it is extremely rare for any bill to be passed in under a week, particularly one so controversial. It is also unusual, the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson argues, for a new law to be given the full backing of all parties before it has been published.

There was opposition within the Liberal Democrats as well, The Times notes. Mark Pack, the editor of the LibDemNewswire, wrote in a blog: "keeping ourselves safe requires enjoying our freedom, as that's what gets the widespread support for our way of life that is crucial to protecting it. Real security for everyone and civil liberties are complimentary, not competitive".

What does the prime minister say?

"No government introduces fast-track legislation lightly," David Cameron said in a statement this morning. "But the consequences of not acting are grave.

"I want to be very clear that we are not introducing new powers or capabilities – that is not for this parliament. This is about restoring two vital measures ensuring that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies maintain the right tools to keep us all safe".

MPs will vote on the bill next week.


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