Below is the letter I have sent to constituents who have written to me regarding the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill.
I share your concerns about the Government’s Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (DRIP). There was no excuse for the way the Government attempted to rush this piece of flawed legislation through Parliament in the dying days before the summer recess. I’m afraid this is typical of this Government’s incompetence.
The Government has known since April, when the European Court of Justice struck down the much wider EU data retention regulations, that new legislation would be needed to maintain the legal status quo in Britain. This allows communications companies to retain billing data (not content) for up to 12 months. Access to this data can be vital for the work of the police and security services investigating crimes and conspiracies including child abuse, terrorism and organised crime.
Without the ability to access these records it is estimated the police would lose important information used in 95% of serious and organised crime investigations, terror investigations and investigations into online child abuse. For example, last year the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Agency received 18,887 reports of child abuse – an increase of 14% on the year. Without access to this sort of information these abusers would be much more difficult to find and stop.
So Labour accepted the need to respond to the European Court ruling, but we were highly critical of the Government’s process and the Bill in its original form. I’m pleased to say we secured important changes.
Firstly, we forced the Government to accept an amendment that requires a full independent review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Whereas DRIP covers the obligation of communications companies to store information, RIPA covers the situations in which the police and intelligence agencies can access this data.
It also covers the police’s power to use more traditional forms of intelligence – such as opening post, following individuals or even entering and bugging homes. Labour’s view is that RIPA must be at the centre of a wider public debate about how we balance privacy and security in an internet age.
The original intention of RIPA was to provide equivalence between electronic and physical surveillance, so the same rules were in place for reading an email as reading a letter. But RIPA is now 15-years old and out of date. New technology is blurring the distinction between communications data and content and raising questions about data storage.
It is this review of RIPA that should ensure no government or party can ignore the concerns raised in recent months following Snowden. It is vital to our democracy – both to protecting our national security and to protecting our basic freedoms – that there is widespread public consent to the balance the Government and the agencies need to strike. President Obama held such a debate in the US last year after the Snowden leaks. The independent review of RIPA Labour has secured will deliver this debate for the UK too.
Secondly, Labour secured an amendment to the Bill requiring the Interception of Communications Commissioner to report on the workings of the Act within 6 months and every six months subsequently.
Thirdly, we secured a “sunset clause” in the legislation meaning it will expire in 2016 and future law in this area will have to take into account the recommendations of the independent review into RIPA.
I hope this has helped address your concerns, but if you have outstanding ones do send me details of them and I will ensure that the Labour front bench is aware of them.
With very best wishes,
Ben Bradshaw MP