Thank you very much for writing to me.
Firstly, I share the widespread regret that this emergency legislation has been brought forward so close to the Parliamentary recess, so that there is not the usual time to consider it. This follows the European Court of Justice ruling in April which, unless responded to by Parliament, means that the police and intelligence agencies will suddenly lose the ability to us vital information and evidence which is applied in 95% of serious and organised crime investigations. Yet whilst the judgment itself was in April, the legislation has been published just seven days before the end of the parliamentary session. As Yvette Cooper has said:
"The government should not have left this legislation until the last minute...by ducking the debate about what powers should be available to the police and security services and what safeguards are needed for privacy...they are undermining trust".
There are two issues which have to be considered in the aftermath of the European Court ruling.
• First, the European Court of Justice has struck down regulations enabling internet providers to retain communications data for law enforcement purposes for up to 12 months. Unless they have a business reason to hold this data, internet and phone companies will delete it, which would have serious consequences for ongoing investigations by the police.
• Second, some companies are calling for a clearer legal framework to underpin their cooperation with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to intercept what terrorists and serious criminals are saying to each other. This is the ability to access content with a warrant
Although I regret the tight timetable, and want the opportunity to have a much wider debate about the proper balance between safeguarding individual liberty and maintaining the capacity to protect ourselves against serious crime, I accept the immediate need to bring forward legislation in response to these points, which will enable agencies to maintain existing capabilities, responding to the ECJ judgement on data retention and bringing clarity to existing law in response to CSP's requests.
However, Labour have also:
• Secured agreement from the government that this emergency legislation will be temporary - it will expire in 2016.
• And secured agreement to a major independent review of the legal framework governing surveillance (as we called for four months ago) so that there can be a proper public and Parliamentary debate over what the longer term legislation and arrangements should be. The Government has also agreed to a new Privacy and Civil Liberties Board.
Is essential is for the Act itself to have a strictly limited life- it automatically falls in 2016- and for there to be adequate safeguards on the powers it proposes. I welcome the commitment to conduct an independent, expert, review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which we have been calling for for some time. This legislation was drawn up in 2000 and is clearly now out of date. New technology is blurring the distinction between communications and content and between domestic and international communications, and raising new questions about data storage. We need to reconsider, therefore, what safeguards are needed to make sure people's privacy is protected in an internet age, and we need stronger oversight, too.
Previously the Government have resisted the proposal for a RIPA review, and I am glad that they have now agreed, although on our side we will continue to press for the review to be carried out with adequate resources and capabilities and expertise to be able to produce a thorough report which can recommend the kinds of reforms that we need but that can also give confidence to the process.
We also want to have reports every six months on the operation of this legislation while it is in force; a strengthening of the Intelligence and Security Committee so that it has the same powers as Select Committees to call and compel witnesses and by having an Opposition Chair, and for longer-term reforms to overhaul the commissioners to provide stronger oversight.
Over the longer term, I recognise that there is understandable concern that our personal privacy and freedom is not compromised by levels of actual or potential surveillance- surveillance which was inconceivable not much more than a decade ago.
Revelations about the scale of data collection undertaken by security agencies have underlined how vital it is to hold those agencies to account; and continually test their activities against other aspects of the public interest relating to civil liberties.
That is why I am my party were so critical of the Government's (subsequently withdrawn) Communications Bill. This was far too widely drawn, gave too much power to the Home Secretary and provided too little protection for people's privacy.
There can be no doubt of the strong public commitment to measures which enable the police and intelligence services to prosecute criminals and where possible, disrupt and prevent serious criminal activity.
Yet whilst an urgent, temporary response may be justified now, we need to take this opportunity to have a more wide-ranging public debate about the balance we need to strike between civil liberties and privacy, and the essential work of the police and intelligence services.
I appreciate all the comments being made on this important issue.
Karen Buck MP