Sam Holman - coder, gamer, geek.

The Drip Drip Of Parliamentary Apathy

If it wasn't already clear enough from the title, I am of course referring to the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers bill that's currently being rushed through UK parliament under "emergency" measures.

There are so many things wrong with this scenario, and I'll try to break down just a few of them.

Why Metadata matters

The "Emergency"

In March 2006, the "Data Retention Directive" was adopted by the European Union which required member states to store citizens' telecommunications data for a minimum of 6 months, and up to a maximum of 2 years. Under this directive, police and security agencies had permission to access communications metadata (IP addresses, time and duration of communications and sender and recipient information) based on the "fight against crime and the protection of public security".

The UK essentially authored this original Directive, and rigorously defended it despite serious concern from physicians, journalists, privacy and human rights groups, unions, security firms, and legal experts.

On the 8th of April this year, the Court of Justice of the European Union declared the Directive invalid in response to a case brought by Digital Rights Ireland against the Irish authorities, among others.

Despite this ruling, the UK government has continued to enforce data retention by companies, and has declared this "emergency" now, only after rights groups and communications companies themselves argued that there was no longer a legal basis for them to do so.

The government has had three months to consider a response to the overturning of this Directive and has chosen to bury its head in the sand at first, and then rush emergency legislation through at the last minute, seemingly with the intention to allow politicians and the public no time at all to scrutinize or debate the implications.

A continuation of existing powers

The government has basically pulled every scare-tactic-buzzword out of the book in defence of this new bill, including the fear of paedophiles, terrorists, organised crime gangs and threat from the Middle East, and argued that emergency legislation is justified on the basis that the DRIP bill is simply a continuation of existing powers used under the Data Retention Directive.

The issues with this are numerous:

In addition, allowing the UK government to write emergency legislation to overrule EU judgement sets a dangerous precedent for future cases. It's an admission that what they've been doing is illegal, and this underhand tactic hopefully isn't going to work.

The Bill has support from Labour and the Lib Dems supposedly because of the sunset clause which sees the Bill expire in 2016, and because it includes vague promises to update RIPA, but these are no consolation. An emergency Bill - in a real emergency, should last no longer than the time it takes to ensure proper debate.

Too much apathy

I've argued before that I think there's far too much public apathy - especially in the UK - after the Snowden revelations began last year, but just as bad is how this extends to our elected representatives.

So much of the general concern - or lack of, relates to an individual's personal circumstances, and whether they feel they need privacy from people they don't know and will likely never meet.

Ask someone whether they would like a stranger sitting in their living room or bedroom watching everything they do, and they'll obviously say that no, they really wouldn't. But the potential for a security official to read your email or Facebook messages... no big deal right? Unless you have something serious to hide, something criminal.

This really isn't the point - there's a bigger picture here with many angles - from the fact that whether or not you value your privacy shouldn't deny someone else the right to theirs, to the fact that ultimately everyone has something to hide. Not criminality, but private thoughts and expressions, secrets and intimacy.

That is a whole different topic anyway, and I'm sure that there will always be a case to be made for privacy versus security, but right now the issue is that an inherently flawed Bill - replacing one that has been ruled a breach of our human rights - is being rushed through parliament without any scrutiny by a government that has shown itself to be untrustworthy at best.

Regardless of your views on privacy, civil liberties, security - this isn't good for anyone, and it at least deserves additional time.

And there is just a little more time for you to write to your own MP if you haven't already and ask them to put more consideration into this. It really might make a difference, and a quick email is all it takes. It is pretty important - this Bill could become law next week.

You can find your MP here and the Open Rights Group has put together a page with some useful information to include.

For more updates on this stuff, I recommend following the Open Rights Group, Tom Watson MP and Jack of Kent on Twitter.

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