The UK’s Data Emergency

The UK’s Data Emergency

In a sudden move by the British Parliament, in response to April’s European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that the current Data Retention is unlawful and contravenes the European Convention of Human Rights, the leaders of the three main parties have this week colluded behind closed doors. They created a draft for a replacement legislation on the Data Retention, which they intend to push through the UK’s parliament in the short period of three days.

In the UK, the  Labour government approved the Data retention act after an European Directive in 2006. Recently the ECJ ruled that the Data Retention Act (EC Direction) “breached fundamental human rights, the right to privacy and the right to protection of personal data”. The new rapidly drafted bill, meant to replace the current data retention, is an almost carbon copy of several failed attempts in recent years to push through similar legislation the “traditional way” (allowing MPs to scrutinise, discuss and debate in parliament).

With trust in the UK parliament at a historic low, pushing through emergency legislation, when the UK is not in a state of national emergency, only seeks to further undermine the trust which must exist between elected representatives and the electorate in order to govern. The new bill has been drawn up in back room deals in what Tom Watson (MP) has publicly called a “stitch-up by the elite”. The new bill seeks to bypass the usual scrutiny of data law, which is one of the most complex and wide-reaching types of law.

As recently as last month the Home Office had told Tom Watson that they “had no plans to update [the UK’s] data retention regulations in light of the European judgment”.  Either this really has been drafted in a matter of days and therefore cannot be fit for purpose, or the UK’s Home Office were not correct in their official response to one of the UK MPs.  Neither option looks like a good one.

At its most fundamental level, it does not matter if the British MPs agree with what the law sets out to do; without proper scrutiny, the MPs will have no say in primary legislation rammed through the UK parliament in under a week. If this was a true emergency, the sunset clause on the legislation should be a matter of months in order to allow for proper debate on a more permanent piece of law, rather than the years this law will be in place. Using emergency powers to push such a bill through parliament is an incredibly dangerous precedent.

Featured image: Secret meeting, CC-BY-NC-SA, Aamir Choudhry