Last Friday, four rogue Lords copy/pasted the repeatedly defeated "Snooper's Charter" spying bill into a pending bill as an amendment, only to withdraw it on Monday after the Lords were bombarded by an aghast public — and now, incredibly, these Lords have reintroduced the same language as a new amendment.
It's hard to imagine a more obnoxious, naked abuse of the democratic process than this. The spying powers in these amendments have been repeatedly defeated in Parliament, and when these Lords got caught introducing them in a way that would bypass debate and deliberation, they hastily withdrew. Then, once they thought the people had stopped paying attention, they pasted the same amendments into the bill. It is beyond shocking — it's cynical, vile, and unforgivable. It's the work of authoritarian thugs who are determined to spy on all of us, all the time, without any meaningful limits, and who understand that we'll never agree to such an arrangement if it is fully debated.
And now, incredibly, they're trying it again just days later. On Saturday, ahead of a "report stage" debate on Monday (the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill is almost fully baked), Lords West, Blair, Carlile and King introduced a new amendment that appears to be almost identical to the last, and to the Communications Data Bill before it.
Again, this new amendment would force "telecommunications operators" – which these days includes the likes of Facebook and Skype, as well as traditional telcos – to store communications metadata for up to a year and hand it over to U.K. authorities when requested. This data retention regime may require the providers to install "specified equipment or systems."
And yet again, the power to get these communications records would be given to any "relevant public authority" that wants it. This is one of the key problems: It's bad enough giving police and intelligence services access to the fruits of what is essentially a mass surveillance scheme (so they can spy on journalists even more), but existing surveillance powers in the U.K. have already been used for all sorts of minor infractions.
At a glance, the one thing that appears to have been dropped is the part about "filtering arrangements", which would essentially have given U.K. authorities the power to access and cross-reference metadata from various services through a search-engine-like interface. There may be other differences – I'll amend this if people notice more – but the peers have left almost no time for the other lords and the rest of us to engage in serious analysis.
This is shocking behavior. Even after the major parties rammed the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers (DRIP) Act through the legislative process with scant debate, it is genuinely surprising to see not only repeated attempts to avoid proper legislative scrutiny, but an attempt that ignores almost every objection made the last time, mere days later.
The four peers in question all come from the security establishment — a former Metropolitan Police commissioner (Blair), a former secretary of defense (King), a former minister for security and counter-terrorism (West), and a former government anti-terror adviser (Carlile).
British securocrats try to sneak in Snooper's Charter yet again [David Meyer/Gigaom]