Government pushes emergency law to allow data snooping

Houses of Parliament

The government has announced that emergency measures will be brought in to force internet and telephone companies to record customer data.

In a controversial move, parliament has declared the new law necessary so that the security services can gain access to any data they may need.

It will force telecoms companies to retain their customer data for 12 months and allows access to any content within it by an intelligence agent if the order is signed off by a government official.

The planned laws will be in effect until 2016 and have the full backing of prime minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg. Both deem the legislation necessary to keep the country safe, it is heard.

A recent ruling from the European Court of Justice removed the obligation from telecoms firms to keep records of when and to whom their customers have made calls, texts or emails.

Cameron and Clegg claim that unless the UK brings in reactionary legislation, companies will be able to destroy information that could see them prosecuted.

Some may argue, however, that the government is trying to halt the surge of privacy rights that has swept across the EU in the wake of Google's "right to be forgotten" ruling.

Labour has backed the new measures after all three major parties agreed that it would not extend government rights to data by re-introducing the "snoopers charter" which the Lib Dem leader vetoed going through parliament last year.

"The government knows that since the EU ruling there is no legal basis for making internet service providers retain our data, so it is using the threat of terrorism as an excuse for getting this law passed," said executive director of the Open Rights Group, Jim Killock.

"Not only will the proposed legislation infringe our right to privacy, it will also set a dangerous precedent where the government simply re-legislates every time it disagrees with a decision by the EU."

Other safeguards being brought in for emergency measures include the creation of a new Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to examine privacy law, a review of the RIPA act, the introduction of annual government transparency reports and a "sunset clause" that will cause the powers to expire in 2016.

What replaces this law once it has expired will be the worry of many civil rights groups.