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On Monday we published an article in response to the Government’s latest cries for increased surveillance powers and data retention and asked if the highly controversial ‘Snooper’s charter’ was inevitable. It appears three of the Lords (Lord Blair, Lord Carlisle and Lord King) believe it should be, as they have attempted to push through 18 pages worth of ‘amendments’ to the existing CTSB (Counter Terrorism and Security Bill) in yet another last minute and underhand move. If successful, this move would see the CTSB echo the previously rejected Snooper’s charter (aka Communications Data Bill).

The most worrying aspect of this latest development is that by passing these ‘amendments’ through at this stage of the parliamentary process they could enter into law without the proper parliamentary scrutiny and industry input that we’d all hoped for and is reasonable to expect. In fact, most of the amendments are reportedly key aspects that were rejected in the original ‘Snooper’s charter’ – so they are literally trying to resurrect it!

We expected additional powers to be introduced at some point but we are very disappointed that once again measures previously disputed are being ‘sneaked in’ without proper consideration and consultation. After the shambles of the DEA (also passed through in a pre-election back-door process), we’d hoped lessons had been learned. It seems we were wrong.

Our view and disappointment is echoed by several others within the industry including ISPA:

“Inserting the clauses contained in the Draft Communications Data Bill into an already complex Bill that is itself proceeding through Parliament via a fast-tracked process is ill-judged. The Lords cannot have time to properly consider the substantial powers contained in the amendments to the Bill, and would deny the Commons the opportunity to properly consider the powers as well.

The Draft Communications Data Bill was scrutinised by a Joint Parliamentary Committee in 2012 who concluded that there “should be a new round of consultation with technical experts, industry, law enforcement bodies, public authorities and civil liberties groups”. At the time industry was critical of the level of consultation and there has since been no adequate consultation.

The Committee also had substantial concerns around the wholesale collection and analysis of communications data, oversight regime, definitions of communications data and robustness of cost estimates, and these have not been addressed and would require considerable changes to the current drafting. Introducing as amendments to a Bill that is being fast-tracked through Parliament, without acknowledging the need for further debate and substantial change, is deeply regrettable.

The Government established a review into investigatory powers led by the independent reviewer of terrorism, David Anderson QC, that is set to publish before the General Election. Rather than bringing in substantial legislation by the backdoor before this review has published and without addressing the concerns of a parliamentary Joint Committee, we urge Parliament to reject this attempt to insert complex legislation into an existing Bill at the last minute.”

Is it too late to stop it?

Our last hope is that these amendments will be struck down in the scheduled debate on Monday where hopefully Government will see that this is not the way to introduce such fundamentally important legislation that impacts the privacy of every UK citizen and will ensure such amendments are properly debated, scrutinised and have the necessary input from industry. At the end of the day, what was the point in commissioning an in depth independent review by David Anderson QC if they plan to implement such fundamental changes before it’s even published?! Just look at how successful the DEA proved to be after its similar introduction!

UPDATED: Tuesday 27th January 2015

Our faith in common sense has been restored (for now at least)! In the House of Lords debate held yesterday amendment 79 was rejected following numerous concerns by the Lords over its ‘back door’ implementation, lack of scrutiny and similarity to the previously rejected Communications Data Bill. For this week at least the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ is off the menu, but we understand it may  be raised once again when the Bill reaches the vote stage…

Have your say!

Do you think these amendments should be allowed to pass through or do you agree they require further discussion? Let us know your thoughts by leaving us a comment below.

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