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A drip drip drip approach to DRIP would have been preferred

Column Fools rush in to legislate, the wise oppose it
Fri Jul 11 2014, 14:00

THE UK GOVERNMENT IS FLUSHED with plans for a data retention law for the country, however it stands alone in support of its rushed, belt and braces plans to trample on human rights.

The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Act is a knee-jerk response to something that happened early this spring.

Back in those blooming days the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that blanket data retention is unlawful, something with which the majority of people agreed. However, this rankled the UK government, which has long pressed for the right to hold an unreasonable amount of personal information for an unreasonable length of time.

This week in the House of Commons UK home secretary Theresa May delivered the government response, a knee-jerk fast track piece of legislation that MPs have a short time to consider before they go on their annual summer break.

The proposals, which have full party support (always suspicious) are what gamblers would call a 'cert'. Unless something very dramatic happens they will come into force next week.

Data retention rules and human rights are not a shopping list, they cannot be bashed out and just adhered to. A backdoor, closed curtained, rushed bill should be vociferously opposed.

May reckons that the plan restores powers that the government has lost, but it adds more, and grabs for extra information. It is, say some, a very underhanded stitch-up. While we are told that no additional powers are requested, a note very high up in the information about DRIP says something different.

"The Secretary of State may by regulations make further provision about the retention of relevant communications data," it reads, adding that this could extend the time in which data must be retained.

There is some good news, it will only be in force for two years. May said that it will sunset in 2016. But there is some bad news, too. The home secretary will return focus to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, a lump of ugly legislation that the UK has resisted swallowing for some years.

Theresa May said that without such powers the UK would be plunged into a criminal forensics black hole and would be denied the ability to effectively solve crimes. This is something that we have all heard before.

We have also heard that surveillance dragnets and blanket surveillance solve very little, but take up a lot of space on government servers. We know that innocents are pulled into this mix, and pinned on a board like a specimen alongside people suspected of terrorism and cybercrimes.

These casualties of a data war are innocents who might find that their personal information is turned against them, if at some uncertain time in the future a Google search of theirs turns out to look suspicious or a social contact becomes an intelligence agency target.

Opponents of the home secretary's plans talk of a closed door stitch-up with one real goal, backdoor access to the government's holy grail - a Snoopers' Charter. This is something that we as citizens should resist.

It is MPs that can perhaps do the most to resist May's plans, and we hope that they do just that. If anything needs closer inspection and scrutiny it is plans like this one. Like glorious plumbers I would ask that our members of parliament come forward, stop thinking about their holidays, pull out a wrench and shut down that troublesome DRIP.

When it comes to making bills, we would rather that Theresa May did not, particularly without scrutiny. This DRIP needs damming, someone needs to stick a great big plug in it. µ


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