A senior judge at the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has concluded that powers letting police and public bodies grant themselves access to people’s communications data with no external oversight or suspicion of serious criminality breach human rights law.
It is difficult to generate much interest among the public to the proposals by the government – drafted by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary – to introduce the Investigatory Powers Bill. A few weeks ago, the country voted against staying in Europe which was interpreted by many as a protest against government and the governing class who were seen as out of touch and indifferent to their plight. There were other matters such as immigration and the EU itself, but it was a cry by the ‘left behinds’ who are finding life, jobs and housing an increasing trial.
Yet they seem relaxed at giving the government yet more powers to pry into their lives. Of course it is presented as a fight against terrorism and that these powers are needed to fight this ever present menace. But, in addition to the police and security services, local councils and various government agencies such as the Food Standard Agency will also enjoy these rights. It is hard to see how the FSA can be dealing with serious crime. And are there half a million serious crimes a year? That is the number of requests.
The previous act Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act [DRIPA] was introduced in a desperate hurry by Theresa May because of a previous ruling by the European Court. This meant that there was an urgent need to introduce legislation to legitimise the high level of interception that was taking place without proper oversight. Hardly any time was allowed for parliamentary debate.
The new law will go further and the CJEU has fired a warning shot concerning the breach of liberties. Ah you might say, ‘aren’t we about to leave the EU so we can give two fingers to them.’ The problem is that the EU will want to ensure that we are protecting fundamental rights when the come to negotiate with us as an external partner.
The new PM is not known as a libertarian and this promises to be an interesting struggle. We do not yet know whether the new Home Secretary will simply trot along behind what the PM left her. So far the public has remained relaxed having bought the line that this all part of the battle against terrorism. One day however, one or other of the tabloids might wake up and have a go in which case the mood will change quickly.