Government announces draft bill on monitoring of communications data

The Queen’s speech on 9 May included a mention of a draft communications data bill: ‘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.’

It remains to be seen what exactly will be included in ‘communications data’. It is understood that the police and security agencies would gain real time access to information held by Internet service providers (ISPs). But they could not access the content of e-mails or text messages without a warrant, the same as now.

An ICO spokesperson said in April: “The Information Commissioner's role in this Home Office project, both under this government and the last, has been to press for the necessary limitations and safeguards to mitigate the impact on citizens' privacy. We will continue to seek assurances, including implementation of the results of a thorough Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA). Ultimately, the decision as to whether to proceed with the project is one which has to be taken by Parliament.”

Any proposals will have to comply both with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and the Data Protection Act. The UK government has already been challenged by the EU over its implementation of privacy laws, and had to make changes to RIPA after the European Commission pointed out areas of non-compliance with EU law.

Read more about this topic in the June/July  issue of PL&B UK.