GENEVA (Reuters) - An emergency data collection law being rushed through the British parliament may not address concerns raised by the European Court of Justice and is difficult to justify, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday.
“The United Kingdom is one of the most well-established democracies in the world so it is a surprise to me they have not undergone a public dialogue on these key issues,” Navi Pillay said.
The draft law, brokered behind closed doors by Britain’s three main parties, will force telecoms firms to retain customer data for a year, a measure that Prime Minister David Cameron has said was vital for security.
The government rushed the proposed law through the lower house of parliament on Tuesday and plans to get the backing of the upper house, the House of Lords, in time for it to become law by the end of the week.
“To me it’s difficult to see how the UK can now justify rushing through wide-reaching emergency legislation which may not fully address the concerns raised by the court, at a time when there are proceedings ongoing by the UK’s own investigative powers tribunal on these very issues,” Pillay said.
A court ruling in April overthrew the EU’s 2006 data retention directive, which had required telecoms companies to store the communications data of EU citizens for up to two years, because it failed to limit such data collection and retention.
Pillay said she hoped the Lords would consider a report on data privacy published by her office on Wednesday, which set out human rights concerns and recommendations for dealing with them.
Cameron’s spokesman declined to comment directly on Pillay’s remarks but said the court ruling had faulted the EU directive on the grounds of proportionality, including the length of time data had to be retained.
“What we are doing here is taking UK primary legislation and as part of that we are addressing in a number of ways ... those concerns around proportionality,” he said.
Security Minister James Brokenshire, who put forward the bill in parliament, said the law would meet an urgent need to maintain policing powers “that are used day in, day out”.
“If we do not enact the bill before the summer recess, we face the real prospect of a serious degradation in the ability of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to investigate crime, preserve national security and protect the public.”.
But opposition lawmaker Tom Watson called it “democratic banditry, resonant of a rogue state”.
“Most reasonable people will conclude that parliament has been insulted by the cavalier way in which a secret deal has been used to ensure that elected representatives are curtailed in their ability to consider, scrutinize, debate and amend the bill,” he said.
Reporting by Tom Miles and Stephanie Nebehay, additional reporting by Michael Holden and William James in London; Editing by Janet Lawrence