Bid to curb emergency data laws

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Emergency legislation on communications data should expire in months so it can be fully debated again before Christmas, a leading Labour opponent said.

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill will be rushed through the House of Commons in an extended sitting today amid warnings the state is attempting to radically increase its powers.

Announced last week and backed by all three main parties, Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted the Bill is a narrow law aimed at reinforcing the status quo, drafted in response to a European Court ruling.

But opponents have claimed the measures contained in the Bill “support and extend controversial mass interceptions” uncovered by US leaker Edward Snowden.

Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, has tabled amendments to the Bill which would insert a “sunset clause” expiring at the end of 2014, meaning it would lapse and ensure fresh legislation would have to be brought before MPs.

Mr Watson said his amendment would be backed by former Tory leadership contender David Davis, as well as more than 15 other MPs.

Mr Watson outlined his plans in a letter to Labour leader Ed Miliband, who he accused of helping to create the panic needed to pass the Bill in “so-called emergency” circumstances.

In the letter, Mr Watson said: “It was a huge personal disappointment to hear of your agreement with the fast-tracked Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill… far from scrutinising the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill, we seem to have helped generate the panic needed to rush this important Bill through under controversial emergency procedures, and the myth needed to present it as the antidote to paedophilia.

“Contrary to the Home Secretary’s repeated assertions, the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill doesn’t just maintain existing interception capabilities. It’s primary legislation will support and extend controversial mass interceptions revealed by Snowden.”

Mr Watson said he will not support the Bill at third reading – the final vote due at around 10pm tonight – without the addition of his amendments, which also include a stronger review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, a review of US-UK data sharing and fresh laws for a Privacy and Civil Liberties and Oversight Board.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the Opposition would continue to support the Bill but warned amendments were needed.

She said: “We are tabling amendments to put extra safeguards in place, whilst making sure the police don’t lose vital information they need suddenly this summer.

“The Government should not have left this legislation until the last minute before the summer.

“We agree that legislation is needed to make sure that the police and security services don’t lose existing access under warrant to information they need to fight crime and keep our country safe.”

Ms Cooper said further reform was needed and outlined two amendments Labour would propose today – one to put an agreed review of Regulation of Investigatory Powers onto the face of the Bill and another to force the Intercept Commissioner to produce reports every six months on the operation of the new legislation.

Mr Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg presented the emergency legislation at a rare joint press conference last week.

In the announcement, Mr Cameron said: “Unless we act now companies will no longer retain the data about who contacted who, where and when and we will no longer be able to use this information to bring criminals to justice and keep our country safe.

“Let me be clear, I am not talking about the content of those communications – just the fact that those communications took place – the so-called communications data. Who contacted who, when and where.

“This is at the heart of our entire criminal justice system. It is used in 95% of all serious organised crime cases handled by the CPS. It’s been used in every major security service counter-terrorism investigation over the past decade.

“It is the foundation for prosecutions of paedophiles, drug dealers and fraudsters.”

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