Queen's Speech offers details of Snooper's Charter bill

The Government has offered an outline of the “strict safeguards” it intends to add to the controversial Draft Communications Data Bill announced as part of today’s Queen’s Speech.

“My Government intends to bring forward measures to maintain the ability of the law enforcement and intelligence agencies to access vital communications data under strict safeguards to protect the public, subject to scrutiny of draft clauses,” announced the Queen on the Government’s behalf.

Dubbed a “snooper’s charter” by some of its many opponents, a Home Office follow-up to the announcement said the bill would set out a framework for the retention of certain data and access to it by police.

Restrictions would include a 12-month time limit on data retention by communication services providers (CSPs), and that the data cover only basic parameters such as time, date and duration of calls, emails and texts and not the actual content itself.

The circumstances under which the authorities will be able to access such data – and how this might diverge from today’s already wide powers - has still to be clarified.

This would be governed by "establishing an updated framework to facilitate the lawful, efficient and effective obtaining of communications data by authorised public authorities including law enforcement and intelligence agencies," said the Home Office.

Meanwhile the Government would introduce more oversight, including by the Information Commissioner and the Interception Information Commissioner to “oversee the collection of communications data by communications service providers.”

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Complaints by members of the public who suspect unlawful monitoring of could be investigated by a senior judicial Independent Investigatory Powers Tribunal. Again, the process by which this avenue would be reached has still to be clarified.

Civil Liberties organisation Liberty said it remained unimpressed.

“A similar scheme was shelved by the Labour Government in 2009 following a fierce backlash and its fresh inclusion in the Queen’s Speech represents a u-turn on the Coalition’s May 2010 promise to “end the storage of internet and e-mail records without good reason,” read a press statement.

“The proposals will dramatically increase the amount of information retained on the phone calls, emails, texts and web habits of the entire population. Access to this information is not limited to law enforcement but is instead granted to all local authorities and hundreds of other public bodies for a wide range of purposes that have nothing to do with crime fighting,” said Liberty.

A statement put out by a spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) was non-committal.  

“We are waiting to see the detail of what is proposed, including any role envisaged for the Information Commissioner. It remains our position that the case for this proposal still has to be made, and we shall expect to see strong and convincing safeguards and limitations to accompany the Bill,” it said.