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Communications Data Bill (Draft) 2013-14

Pending bill

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  • Type of Bill:

    Government Bill

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Summary

The draft Bill was announced in the Queen's speech of 9 May 2012 and was published on 14 June 2012. It will apply to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The draft Bill will be examined by a joint committee, and the Intelligence and Security Committee will conduct a parallel inquiry into the proposals.

It aims to allow police and intelligence agencies continued access to communications data, in order that they can protect the public against criminal activities.

The draft Bill allows for:

  • a new framework under which communication service providers, such as internet providers, to keep records of communications data for a period of 12 months
  • new guidelines under which police and intelligence agencies will be able to access that data under certain circumstances, and with specific permisson
  • measures to protect against unauthorised access to or disclosure of the data
  • a new security framework, under which the Information Commissioner will oversee the security of retained communications data and its destruction after 12 months, the Interception of Communications Commissioner will oversee the collection of the data, and the Investigatory Powers Tribunal will provide a means of appeal for individuals who feel their data has been unfairly accessed

Home secretary Theresa May first announced plans in this area in April 2012, and media reports that the Government Communications Headquarters could be given real-time access to Skype, instant message and email data were the source of much criticism at that time.

Upon the publication of the draft Bill, the government has been keen to stress that communications data does not include the content of a communication itself, only information about the time, duration and recipient of a communication. Theresa May has said that the Bill represents only an updating of existing powers to account for new forms of technology, rather than any extension of surveillance powers.

Many Liberal Democrats have expressed strong opposition to the plans, including party chairman Tim Farron. Prior to the publication of the draft Bill, sixteen Lib Dem MPs, more than a quarter of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary party, signed a letter warning of "worrying reports" about the proposals.

Labour supports the government's desire to keep up with criminals and terrorists using new technology, but said that it would be scrutinising the draft Bill closely to ensure that people's privacy would be properly protected.

Human Rights organisation Liberty said it was "dismayed" by plans for a new "snoopers' charter" and civil liberties activists the Open Rights Group were concerned that the proposals were "wide open to abuse" and would endanger whistleblowers and journalists sources.