UK Prime Minister Says the Snoopers' Charter is Still on the Agenda

The Communications Data Bill, commonly described as the 'snoopers charter,' was a contentious proposal until it appeared to be killed off by Nick Clegg, deputy prime minister (and leader of the coalition partner Lib Dem party) in April 2013. He promised that his party would veto the bill, and that it is "not going to happen."

But at approximately 3:45 pm yesterday, committee member Baroness Ramsay asked Cameron about laws on communication data and how to balance security and civil liberties. He replied that he considered law enforcement access to communications metadata to be vital for crime detection and prevention, and indicated that he would likely resurrect the Communications Bill after the next general election. "He vowed to make a fresh bid to give police and security services more powers to monitor emails and the internet after the general election," reports the Daily Mirror.

According to the Edward Snowden leaks, the UK security service in the form of GCHQ, is already monitoring the majority of communications – but Cameron clearly wants to make this explicitly legal. He stressed that the very metadata which many argue is collected unconstitutionally by the NSA in the US (in defiance of the fourth amendment), should be collected as a matter of course in the UK. He will likely insist that ISPs collect and retain this data, mirroring one of the proposals being considered by president Obama for US metadata to be removed from NSA storage.

"If we don't modernize the practice and the law, over time we will have the communications data to solve these horrible crimes on a shrinking proportion of the total use of devices and that is a real problem for keeping people safe." To justify his arguments he pointed to the success of fictional investigators in fictional crime dramas through the use of monitored metadata. "There's hardly a crime drama where a crime is solved without using the data of a mobile communications device," he said.

This was quickly ridiculed by critics. "Tory MP David Davis, who has opposed the snoopers’ charter, said: ‘Sadly, you can’t derive policy from watching fictional crime dramas on TV. Policy should be made using hard evidence, strong arguments and proper data, not the exploits of fictional crime fighters,'" reports the Daily Mail.

"Lib Dem chairman Tim Farron said: ‘Serious policies should be based on evidence, and after listening to experts, and not based on what you saw on Homeland.’"

This would bring the UK into line with a new law enacted by France in December 2013. Quietly slipped into a law on military spending, article 20 permits French intelligence and security services to collect metadata in real time and without judicial oversight from the telecoms operators. In reality, this changes little in practice in France, other than to permit the collection in real time.

The collection and retention of metadata is a current requirement of the EU's data retention directive. However, the European Court of Justice Advocate General, Pedro Cruz Villalón, last month gave his opinion that the directive "is as a whole incompatible with Article 52(1) of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union."

Cameron's proposal is to remove all doubt over the legality of mass metadata harvesting by making it an explicit legal requirement in the UK. He will probably cite 'national security' in order to remove it from EU oversight.

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