British MPs to sue government over fast-tracked DRIP surveillance law

Surveillance

Two British parliamentarians from either side of the political divide will join civil liberties organization Liberty in launching a legal challenge to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Act, which was fast-tracked through the parliamentary process last week.

Liberty announced on Tuesday that Tom Watson (Labour) and David Davis (Conservative), both of whom are veteran anti-surveillance campaigners, were its newest clients. The challenge will point to Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which says any exception to the right to privacy must be “necessary in a democratic society,” and to similar articles in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights that cover respect for private and family life and the protection of personal data.

I suspect the MPs and Liberty will also note a recent United Nations report that said indiscriminate mass data retention was neither necessary nor proportionate.

DRIP was passed as emergency legislation less than a week after it was revealed to the public. It was supposed to just help police and other authorities retain their right to access people’s communications data, in the wake of the striking-down of the EU-wide Data Retention Directive, three months earlier.

However, it actually expanded the types of data that the authorities could force providers to retain for a year. Before, those types only extended to phone call, SMS and email metadata (who contacted whom and when), but DRIP made sure that the authorities could also demand similar information from all kinds of web services, anywhere in the world. The government called this “clarification” but it amounted to the cementing of what was previously only a legal interpretation.

According to Davis:

“This Act of Parliament was driven through the House of Commons with ridiculous and unnecessary haste to meet a completely artificial emergency. As a result Members of Parliament had no opportunity to either research it, consider it or debate it properly and the aim of this legal action is to make the Government give the House the opportunity to do what it should have been allowed in the first place. Proper, considered and effective law making. The overall aim is to create law which both protects the security of our citizens without unnecessarily invading their privacy.”

Watson, meanwhile, criticized how the three main U.K. parties agreed to pass the act before even telling the public or debating its provisions in public. “You cannot make good laws behind closed doors,” he said.

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