As a number of constituents have written to me about the emergency Bill on Data Retention I am setting out some of my thoughts on the topic for those interested in the letter I reproduce below:
Thank you for your letter concerning the proposed legislation on data and criminal justice.
The government and Opposition claim this emergency legislation is necessary to restore the legal position created by Labour’s legislation following a decision of the European Court of Justice. That court has recently overturned the EU’s own Data Retention Directive 2006, which the past government had put into UK law as it was required to do by EU law.
I asked the Shadow Home Secretary to explain why the last Labour government had agreed to and implemented this Directive which has now caused concern at the ECJ on civil liberty grounds. She reminded me that Labour did implement this measure with more safeguards for liberties than were required by the EU law. They thought the UK police and criminal justice authorities needed access to details of when UK citizens suspected of serious crime made calls and to whom, which could be obtained under these powers. The authorities did not have access to the contents of phone calls and messages.
The 3 party leaderships point out that the replacement legislation being proposed puts in place more safeguards, and meets the requirement of the ECJ that data should not be held for more than twelve months and in other cases for less time.
I also asked the Home Secretary if the EU is likely to revisit its troublesome legislation and come up with a new Directive which we would have to implement, which could of course be less kind to civil liberties. She confirmed that might happen, but not soon. She is concerned that evidence trails could be lost if the current UK legislation is successfully challenged on the back of the ECJ judgement. I will want the UK to resist new EU laws that damage civil liberties.
I will be supporting Labour’s amendments to the proposal to ensure that there is a proper review of this legislation, and to have interim reports from the Interception of Communications Commissioner. I hope this will be accepted by the government given the view of many Conservative and Labour MPs that we need to protect the liberties of the citizen more clearly.
I see this as an interim measure forced upon the government by the decision of the ECJ to overturn EU legislation. I agree with the ECJ that the original Directive was insufficiently sensitive to civil liberties. Parliament thought so at the time and put in place what protections it could. It can now go further. I look forward to a better debate in the UK as we assess the impact of this short term measure, and consider what legal framework we want from 2016 onwards when this temporary Bill will expire. Meanwhile I am on the side of those who want more safeguards within the planned new framework.
John Redwood MP