Tuesday 3 February 2015

Obtaining data ~ Proposed amendment to Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill withdrawn

When any Bill is introduced into Parliament, it is not unusual for politicians to introduce amendments.  After all, that is a part of their role and it is generally done with a view to either correcting errors or seeking to make improvements to the drafting.   From time-to-time, additions (still referred to as "amendments") are tabled.  However, it must be somewhat rare for politicians to seek to make additions to a government Bill when those amendments are aimed at bringing into law something that was rejected by the government quite recently.  It is even more unusual for major additions to be tabled in the House of Lords after the Bill has passed the House of Commons and is nearing the end of its progress through Parliament.

In 2013, following objections by the Liberal Democrat part of the coalition, the Data Communications Bill was withdrawn.  In November 2014, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill was introduced by the government and it is being "fast-tracked" through Parliament.  Recently, four Peers
- (Lords Blair, West, King and Carlile) - tabled amendments aimed at bringing in similar State powers to those in the Data Communications Bill and rejected in 2012.   The  amendments were withdrawn but then re-introduced in a somewhat watered down form.  The re-introduced amendments have now been withdrawn - and see Lords attempt to sneak through snoopers' charter again.

The amendments would have expanded surveillance powers over electronic media.  Internet Service Providers (ISP) would have had to collect and store data taken from their subscribers' online traffic for 12 months and hand this over to the government without a warrant.  The latest set of amendments contained a "sunset clause" so that they would have lapsed at the end of 2016.  According to those seeking the powers, this would have plugged a gap in the State's ability to fight terrorism.  The next Parliament would then have been able to fully address the issues involved which it seems likely to do in any event though much may depend on the political make-up of the next government.  

The detailed proposed amendments (now withdrawn) may be read HERE  The Secretary of State would have been able to ensure that communications data was available to be obtained from telecommunications operators by relevant public authorities.  (The list of such authorities was narrowed after the first set of amendments were abandoned).  Data would have been retained for 12 months or longer if requested for the purpose of legal proceedings.  Authorisation to obtain data could have been issued by designated senior officers of a relevant public authority.  The powers would have also extended to postal operators and postal services.

Previous post on the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill - 12th January 2015

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