Public Law

No, not the Channel 4 programme that sadly / finally / mercifully* ended earlier this year. Reports of that show’s resurrection by Channel 5 seem so far to have been greatly exaggerated (and, yes, I realise Mark Twain is probably spinning in his grave after being paraphrased in such a context). I refer instead to the altogether more serious, but perhaps no less distressing, business of state surveillance.

Recent reports have highlighted that the recent Strategic Defence and Security Review called for the resurrection of Home Office plans to compel communications providers to store, for at least a year, details of individuals’ emails, phone calls, texts and website visits. While they won’t be storing the content of conversations and messages, they will capture the ‘envelope’ information that identifies who has contacted whom, as well as the times and locations of calls, messages and website visits. The police and security services will be able to access that information on a case-by-case basis under the Regulatory of Investigatory Powers Act (or its Scottish equivalent) if it is necessary for the prevention of crime or terrorism.

The plans were ditched by the previous Government last November having been opposed by both then-opposition parties, who went on to say in their Coalition agreement that they would “end the storage of internet and email records without good reason”. But, like Halloween’s Michael Myers or the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, these proposals just keep coming back no matter how unlikely their chances of survival have seemed in the past.

Draft legislation is expected in the near future, and will no doubt be attached to a consultation. The Information Commissioner does not seem to have commented yet, and it will be interesting to see how he views these proposals in light of the obvious impact they are likely to have on the privacy of individual’s personal data.

*delete according to taste

Charles Livingstone

Partner at Brodies LLP
Charles works with a broad range of commercial, public sector, charitable and individual clients, advising them on public law issues including judicial review, human rights, information law and the powers and duties of local and other public authorities. He is named by Chambers & Partners in both Competition Law and Administrative & Public Law.
Charles Livingstone