Fast-track legislation is to be rushed through the British parliament with cross-party support in order to maintain the ability of police and security services to access telephone and internet data.
Home secretary Theresa May warned MPs innocent lives would be lost if the parliament did not act swiftly in response to a European Court of Justice ruling which raised the prospect that communications companies could start deleting crucial material used to tackle terrorists and serious criminals.
And she said action was needed to confirm the legal basis for security and intelligence agencies to intercept the content of suspects’ emails and phone calls under warrant and head off the risk that communications firms based overseas might withdraw co-operation.
Announcing the Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill at 10 Downing St, David Cameron, the prime minister, and his Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg, stressed that the legislation would maintain the authorities’ existing powers rather than add to them.
Mr Clegg insisted it did not represent a revival of the so-called “snooper’s charter” which he blocked last year.
They outlined a series of additional safeguards which they said would maintain the balance between security and privacy, including a “poison pill” clause which will terminate the legislation at the end of 2016, forcing the next government to debate and pass a replacement bill.
A new US-style Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board will be created, there will be a reduction in the number of public bodies — such as the Royal Mail and Charity Commission — able to ask communications companies for data, and annual transparency reports will set out publicly the way surveillance powers are being used. A senior diplomat will lead talks with the US and the internet companies on forging an international data-sharing agreement.
Mr Cameron warned: “Unless we act now companies will no longer retain the data about who contacted who, where and when and we will no longer be able to use this information to bring criminals to justice and keep our country safe.”
The proposals are expected to be introduced in the House of Commons on Tuesday and rushed through within three days.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved