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ISPA: Government has 'failed' to foster debate on privacy

Wednesday, October 15th 2014 by Ellen Branagh

An open debate about communications data is needed, the body representing the UK internet industry has said.

The Internet Services Providers’ Association (ISPA UK) said amendments to laws on the storage of people’s data had been made without “meaningful scrutiny” and urged the government to listen to public and industry views on the issue.

But a spokesman said despite widespread concerns, any new law will ultimately come down to what the next Government decides to do, and he would not be surprised to see a repeat of legislation being rushed through without proper debate.

The comments come as ISPA outlined five main principles that it says should underpin reform of surveillance laws and regulations on how communications data is collected, accessed and overseen, as part of its submission to a review by David Anderson QC.

The review is looking into investigatory powers including the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Act, passed earlier this year, which can require operators to store communications data for up to a year. The act sparked concern by civil rights campaigners, who criticized the speed with which it gained parliamentary approval.

In its submission to the review, which is expected to be completed by the general election, ISPA said the government had “failed to facilitate an open debate around communications data and interception and amendments have been made without meaningful scrutiny”.

It said by framing the debate in a certain way and relying on “an accelerated parliamentary process”, the government had effectively created a situation where an act had been passed without “thorough and informed debate”.

It also voiced concerns that the debate could become “politicised” and urged parties to take account of the review’s findings instead of “falling back on already established policy positions”.

ISPA said it supported “reasonable access” to communications data, but called for the Government to adhere to five main principles: limited data retention; a clear legal framework; transparent operation; a clear system to govern cooperation across jurisdictions; and competitiveness.

But spokesman Till Sommer said there were concerns that any opinions might be ignored and government would make its own decisions – citing Theresa May’s vow at the Tory Party Conference that a Conservative government would introduce the controversial Communications Data Bill.

He told Cable.co.uk: “Some might say that is slightly undermining the Anderson Review if you already announce that you want to bring about a law that it is looking at.”

When asked if he could foresee new legislation being rushed through similarly to DRIPA, he told us, “I wouldn’t say that we would be surprised if it happened again.

“We sort of hope that due to the fact that we have the Anderson Review, and we hope to get another joint committee in the new parliament, that there is a bit of a public debate.

“It then depends on the next government to take all these views that have been voiced in the process, to take them on board and base a law on those views rather than ignore them completely.

“It's up to the government to do that and who knows what will happen.

“It depends on the make-up of the next government, it depends on the next parliament.”

Mr Sommer said proper debate could only take place if the government put its “cards on the table” about the true purpose of the legislation.

He said ISPA recognised that law enforcement should have access to communications data, but the debate should not be focused purely on law and order.

“It's a very tricky policy area because you have different security considerations,” he added.

“You want to keep people safe and Theresa May always has a lot of examples where communications data is being used and some of those examples are not quite accurate but others are completely valid.

“But by framing this debate just from a law and order standpoint you then close off or curtail the rest of the debate we have to have.

“How do we bring back into the debate the legitimate interest of users, how do you make sure the law is implementable and usable and doesn't have an impact on smaller businesses and start-ups?

“That is certainly a concern in the run-up to the election, that it will be purely focused on law and order.”

Responding to the ISPA report, a Home Office spokesperson said: “We welcome the fact that ISPA have contributed to the review of investigatory powers by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson QC, and we look forward to his findings.

“The Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act 2014, which provided for this review, has also extended the already stringent safeguards governing the UK’s communications data retention regime.”

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