Emergency laws to record phone calls, texts and people’s internet history could be rushed through Parliament, amid growing fears over the threat posed by radicalised British Muslims returning from Syria.
Ministers have been forced to act after the European courts ruled that Government powers to monitor people’s phone and internet records were illegal.
The Government is concerned that the April ruling has left a gaping hole in the security services ability to track and prosecute terrorists.
UK-based terrorists fighting in Syria – such as Abu Muthana Al Yemeni (centre), Abu Bara’ Al Hindi (right) and Abu Dujana Al Hindi (left) who all claim to have come from Britain – could pose a threat when they return, ministers believe
Labour and the Lib Dems are now prepared to support new laws reintroducing the old surveillance powers before next year’s general election.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has rejected accusations that the new laws amount to a ‘snoopers’ charter’ being introduced through the back door.
Last year Mr Clegg blocked Theresa May’s controversial communications data bill – which would have dramatically increased the Government’s ability to monitor people’s phone and internet usage. The Tories are expected to reintroduce the bill if they win the next election.
The wider issue of phone and internet surveillance had been expected to have been shelved until after the election, but the European court’s ruling has forced the Government to act sooner than expected
Labour is likely to suggest that the new emergency laws should have some form of ‘sunset clause’ to review them after a set period, the Guardian reported this morning.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper has also argued for a wider review of the powers given to the security services.
Home Secretary Theresa May is concerned that a European court ruling makes it harder for the security services and police to monitor terror threats
A Liberal Democrat source said Nick Clegg was open-minded about boosting Government powers but said: ‘There is no question of a snooper’s charter, watered down or otherwise, being introduced by this government.’
The source added: ‘The government does have to respond to the European court of justice ruling, which we are currently examining, and will respond in due course. But that is about the retention of existing powers rather than their extension.’
A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘The retention of communications data is absolutely fundamental to ensure law enforcement have the powers they need to investigate crime, protect the public and ensure national security.
‘We are carefully considering the European court of justice’s judgment on data retention and are currently examining potential next steps.’
But Emma Carr, acting director of Big Brother Watch, said: ‘It would be reckless to attempt to legislate on further surveillance powers before a comprehensive, independent review of the existing legal framework has taken place.
‘A broad political consensus has emerged in support of a comprehensive review in recognition of the fact that the public should know more about how existing surveillance laws are being used and whether the current oversight mechanisms are adequate.
‘It is a basic principle of a free society that you don’t monitor people who are not under suspicion. Considering the Snoopers Charter has already been rejected by the public as well as by the highest court in Europe, it is essential that the Government does not rush head first into creating new legislation.
‘The EU’s data retention laws privatised snooping, meaning companies were paid by governments to record what citizens were doing and retain that information for a year.
‘We need to get back to a point where the police monitor people who are actually suspected of wrong doing and rather than wasting millions every year requiring data to be stored on an indiscriminate basis.’