As the controversial “emergency surveillance” bill being considered in the UK passed the House of Commons on Wednesday morning, privacy watchdogs criticized the law they say would allow the UK government to run an intrusive spying program on its citizens.
The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) bill passed 449 to 33 and is scheduled for a two-day final review by the House of Lords this week. Commons voted following a contentious but inexplicably brief debate between MPs that included accusations of back-door deals, according to The Guardian.
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Despite its quick approval, the bill has been slammed by technology law experts, who warn that it would give the government too much power to spy on UK citizens and that legislators have not been given enough time for a thorough debate.
As Common Dreams reported earlier, DRIP would require communications companies to store and track the public’s phone calls, text messages, and internet use and hand over the data to the government, even without a warrant. Proponents have said that there are enough safeguards in place to prevent the law from becoming the kind of intrusive surveillance program that was struck down by the European Court of Justice in April for violating the “fundamental rights to respect for privacy.”
In an open letter to the members of Parliament, 15 internet policy scholars from the UK said the bill “goes far beyond” its intended use and that it “attempts to extend the territorial reach of the British interception powers, expanding the UK’s ability to mandate the interception of communications content across the globe.”
Prime Minister David Cameron defended the bill’s quick progress through Parliament last week as an emergency measure against potential terrorism threats, stating in a press conference that he was “simply not prepared… to address the people after a terrorist incident and explain that I could have done more to prevent it.”
The proposed bill “attempts to extend the territorial reach of the British interception powers, expanding the UK’s ability to mandate the interception of communications content across the globe,” Internet policy scholars write. “Sometimes in the dangerous world in which we live, we need our security services to listen to someone’s phone and read their emails to identify and disrupt a terrorist plot,” Cameron said.
But the bill “introduces powers that are not only completely novel in the United Kingdom, they are some of the first of their kind globally,” the scholars’ letter argues. “Further, the bill incorporates a number of changes to interception whilst the purported urgency relates only to the striking down of the Data Retention Directive. Even if there was a real emergency relating to data retention, there is no apparent reason for this haste to be extended to the area of interception.”
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