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UK Government Rush Through Storage Law

Data security has never been a more prominent issue than it has in recent times. Thanks to Edward Snowden, the world became much more aware at just how much government snooping was going on when it came to our personal data. It should go without saying that personal data needs to remain exactly that. Sadly, however, it isn’t the case. Sometimes the need for this data tracking can come down to maintaining security, but those lines can blur.

Now the English government have rushed through emergency legislation that will force phone and internet companies to log records of customer texts, calls and internet use. The legislation will also force telecom companies to retain the data for 12 months, which is different to the 24 months outlined by the European law it replaces.

Ministers claim that the legislation is necessary as it will enable police and security services to access any data they need for their job. This has been rushed through because of an existing legal ruling which has declared their current powers invalid.

This ruling was from the European Court of Justice and it took away telecom company’s obligations to retain records of who their customers have called, texted and emailed.

The Prime Minister and his Deputy claim that information could be destroyed within three weeks, especially from companies who fear legal action, unless this new law is passed.

The planned laws will only last until 2016 and has been approved by the coalition parties (the current British government) and the Labour party (the largest other party). The Labour party have backed the proposition after agreeing with the government that the law would only retain existing rights and not be used for snooping.

The BBC report that the new legislation will also bring in the following safeguards:

• The creation of a new Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to examine the impact of the law on privacy and civil liberties
• A review of the controversial RIPA - Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act
• Annual government transparency reports on how these powers are used
• The law will include a so-called sunset clause - ensuring that these powers will die in 2016 - so there will be a longer and wider debate about what replaces them.

It is rare for all three major parties to agree on legislation before it has even been published, let alone passing it in just the span of a week. It’s an action that has had some commentators concerned. Labour MP Tom Watson donned the entire situation a “stich up” and that the rushing through of the law has not allowed for proper consideration of the legislation.

A controversial aspect of the law is that it will allow access to the actual content of the calls, texts and emails. This will only be allowed once a warrant has been signed by a senior government minister. Nevertheless, it is rumoured that telecom companies warned ministers that after the NSA revelations they are open to legal challenge from their customers.

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