01:03 GMT18 February 2020
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    The UK Government has been accused of fast-tracking its controversial Investigatory Powers Bill - known as the Snoopers' Charter - ahead of the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, in an effort to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny.

    UK Home Secretary Theresa May has been adamant that she would introduce the Snoopers' Charter to allow for police and the intelligence services to collect and store vast quantities of communications data, after a series of setbacks in the past.

    The government's first attempt to push through a Draft Communications Data Bill in 2013 failed after UK Prime Minister's coalition partner, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg blocked it, arguing that the mass collection of each user's Internet browsing activity (including social media), email correspondence, voice calls, online gaming, and mobile phone messaging services and storage for 12 months went against people's privacy rights.

    However, the European Court of Justice in 2014 ruled that the existing EU Directive on data retention was invalid because it was sweeping in its interference with individual privacy rights. The judgment made clear that existing UK legislation, including the access regime under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA), required urgent review.

    The ruling forced the Cameron government to rush through parliament the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIPA) by ministers claiming "emergency" legislation was necessary. The bill was privately agreed following discussions between the then three main party leaders. It became law within just three days — denying time for proper parliamentary scrutiny, amendment or even debate.

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    However, in July 2015, the High Court ruled that sections 1 and 2 of the DRIPA are incompatible with the respect for privacy life and communications and protection of personal data afforded to all citizens under Articles 7 and 9 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. 

    In its finding, the court claimed that DRIPA fails to "provide clear and precise rules to ensure data is only accessed for the purpose of preventing and detecting serious offences or for conducting criminal prosecutions relating to such offences' and that 'access to data is not authorized by a court or independent body, whose decision could limit access to and use of the data to what is strictly necessary."

    According to sources in Westminster, government whips have told Labour lawmakers that the new Draft Investigatory Powers Bill will be published on March 1, with a second reading — scrutiny by lawmakers — slated for March 14. The Bill will then go to committee stage for scrutiny on March 22, with a final vote expected in Parliament by the end of April.

    Leading Conservative privacy rights campaigned David Davis told The Independent newspaper:

    "When you work it out, it's a 300-page Bill — so that's something like five seconds to consider each line on second reading."

    Sources in Westminster told Sputnik it was likely to bill would be pushed through by the Conservatives keen to use the EU referendum debate as a cover to distract lawmakers' attention from the proposed legislation.

    Related:

    UK Snoopers' Charter Will Lead to 'Race to the Bottom' in Mass Surveillance
    UK Lawmakers Request 86 Changes to Snoopers' Charter Draft Bill
    Parliament Committee Lambasts UK Snoopers' Charter
    Ex-NSA Official to Warn UK Lawmakers Against Online Surveillance Bill
    Snowden Welcomes Apple’s Criticism of UK Surveillance Bill
    Tags:
    MPs, data retention, spying, snooping, lawmakers, intelligence, parliament, surveillance, privacy, House of Commons, Conservative Party, David Cameron, Theresa May, Great Britain, Europe, United Kingdom
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