Sunday, 13 July 2014

Dr Julian Huppert, Lib Dem MP For Cambridge On "Emergency" Data Retention Legislation

Julian Huppert MP
As a Liberal, I care passionately about civil liberties, privacy, and the need to limit abusive state surveillance.

But I also know that there is a need for the police and intelligence agencies to have the tools do the job we give them - as long as they are carefully controlled, appropriately used, and proportionate to the threat faced.

Those concerns are key - and I have often been incensed at the way Governments, whether Labour or Tory, have used threats for terrorism or anything else as a reason to chip away at our individual freedoms. We must not and will not allow this.

There is an issue we have to deal with now. The European Court of Justice threw out the European Data Retention Directive, which underpins all collection of communications data in this country. I sympathise with the reasons, but we must acknowledge that it causes real problems - we do need to have some way to keep some communications data, but under very careful control.

The Tories would love to use this to bring back the awful Communications Data Bill - known as the Snooper’s Charter - that Nick vetoed last year. Labour tried something similar themselves. We will not allow this to happen.

I’ve had the chance to speak to Nick and Norman Baker about this - all of us have been clear. We must keep our country and citizens safe, but not by allowing the erosion of our civil liberties and increasing unchecked intrusion into our lives.

We need legislation to allow communications data to be available, but not to store more than is already allowed. And in this post-Snowden world, we need to move towards keeping less, and finding better and more proportionate ways to do so.

We need to completely rewrite the law in this area. But that cannot be done quickly. We have to get it right, which will take a lot of work from many experts. We’ve already started that off - our ‘Digital Bill of Rights’ motion calls for a commission of experts to review all state surveillance and information from the Snowden revelations - that takes time. Nick has already started this work with RUSI, and they need to finish that work.

So I think it is right to agree to a stop-gap. A piece of legislation that can be passed quickly, but crucially will automatically expire at the end of 2016, giving time to write something better, and the certainty of knowing it will not just become entrenched.

And in this stop-gap legislation, we should agree to no more than was previously allowed.

And we’ve managed better than that - we’ve also demanded and won a package of pro-civil liberties measures to go with it.

We’ve won:
  • A commitment to a major parliamentary review of RIPA, the outdated legislation governing all of this surveillance - it will give an interim report before the election and a full one after
  • A huge reduction in the number of public bodies able to make direct requests to phone and internet companies for your data
  • A Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, to ensure that in future the decisions taken by the government to protect the public from terrorism pay proper attention to the need to uphold the privacy and civil liberties of British citizens. This is something that works particularly well in the USA
  • Annual government transparency reports, setting out how many requests for data are made, by whom, and for what purposes
  • Further reform of the Intelligence and Security Committee, so that in future the Chair must be drawn from the Opposition parties. No more cosy chats!
  • Appointment of a senior diplomat mandated to negotiate with the US government and companies to find a better long-term solution to exchange data for serious criminal and terrorist investigations
I don’t claim that this is a perfect long-term solution. But I don’t think anyone could write down, right now, what would be perfect. And it’s a huge lot better than either the Tories or Labour would have done on their own. But because this legislation - though not the extra safeguards - will end in 2016, there will have to be a proper full discussion in the rest of this Parliament and the next on this - the status quo cannot be continued forever.

We’ve done much to be proud of to support civil liberties. We’ve scrapped ID cards, ended 28-day detention without charge, curtailed stop and search powers, ended routine child detention for immigration purposes, reformed the libel laws to protect free speech, and much more. If it was just down to us, we’d have made even more progress - but this simply would not have happened without us in government.

Best wishes,

Dr Julian Huppert MP

Member of Parliament for Cambridge
Liberal Democrat