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UK in danger of becoming ‘surveillance society’, warns Law Society

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It seems that the current retention of data by communications service providers for law enforcement purposes breached article eight of the Human Rights Act.

But as MPs prepare to pass the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill, which will require internet and phone companies to keep a database of the time, date and place of customer emails and calls, they also look to start a review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). This would allow them to intercept communications.

And although the Society has called for a review of RIPA on many occasions, president Andrew Caplen is concerned that introducing emergency legislation does nothing to enhance the rule of law or address the fact that we are increasingly becoming a ‘surveillance society’.

The history of emergency legislation is not exemplary, with laws being used for purposes for which they were not intended. Today’s news is particularly worrying, given the emergency legislation will go against a court judgment on human rights.

There needs to be a public debate about how to strike the right balance between security, freedom and privacy. We need to simplify and clarify a complex and confusing legal framework and ensure that it protects human rights.

The Law Society is calling for:

  • A wide-ranging review of the legal and practical framework of surveillance in the UK;
  • Explicit legislative protection for legal professional privilege in legislation like RIPA; and
  • The development of a future legislative framework that reflects public consensus as well as the expert views of relevant technologists, jurists, academics and civil liberties groups.

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