Prime Minister David Cameron has introduced emergency legislation that will allow telecoms to retain customer communications data for up to 12 months to aid government investigations which “rely on retrospectively accessing data for evidential purposes.” The legislation has been introduced because the European Court of Justice previously struck down the regulations that allowed the British government to require data storage, and is also intended to put limits on the government’s ability to request such data in an apparent concession to privacy.
Cameron’s plan echoes similar plans from the Obama administration, which has scrambled to respond to the backlash against the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. He is offering to be more transparent about the government’s actions, to review the laws that allow such programs, and to protect the right to privacy. Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before. (Then go ahead and read Pando’s continued coverage of this political rigmarole, of course.)
Even the reasoning behind rushing this legislation through parliament sounds like an echo of the claims politicians in the United States have made about the NSA’s programs. Here’s what Cameron said in a statement announcing and explaining the new legislation this morning:
It is the first duty of government to protect our national security and to act quickly when that security is compromised. As events in Iraq and Syria demonstrate, now is not the time to be scaling back on our ability to keep our people safe. The ability to access information about communications and intercept the communications of dangerous individuals is essential to fight the threat from criminals and terrorists targeting the UK.
Using national security to silence all debates about privacy rights has grown tiresome, as has explaining why they’re bullshit. Here’s a link to a New America Foundation study contesting claims that NSA programs have foiled terrorist attacks. Here are a few links to criticism of the continued use of “national security” to dismiss backlash against surveillance programs. Here’s a recommendation to just grab the nearest bottle of alcohol and drink whenever you read the words “national security,” “transparency,” “privacy,” or “surveillance” anywhere in the news.
But at least there’s a bright side to this legislation: it’s not nearly as corrosive as laws that failed to gain traction in the British government last year. Reuters explains:
The government failed last year to bring in a Communications Data bill, dubbed a “snoopers charter”, which would have secured the West’s most far-reaching surveillance powers in the face of widespread opposition.
Senior police and security chiefs had argued that unless they were given new powers to monitor online activities, militants and crooks would exploit new forms of communication technology such as Facebook and Skype.
That’s the best part about this legislation. It doesn’t erode the rights to privacy any more than the previous regulations did, it makes some half-assed attempts to placate privacy advocates, and it’s not nearly as awful as the old proposal bad enough to be called the “snoopers charter.”
Let’s drink to that.