Lords ‘disembowel’ Anti-Terrorism Bill
UK citizens retain privacy for a little while longer
The Home Secretary is fuming today over what the government has called the "disembowelling" and "knee-capping" of his Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Bill by the House of Lords.
An alliance of Tory and Liberal Democrat peers defeated the passing of seven parts of the bill, insisting on amendments before they give it official approval. Two defeats concerned the retention of data, directly affecting Internet and email use.
The Lords passed by 228 votes to 133 votes to agree to Amendment No.11 which sought to insert the phrase "for the purposes of prevention or detection of crime or the prosecution of offenders which may relate directly or indirectly to national security" in relation to under what circumstances the government can insist on being handed over data held by ISPs and the like.
Basically, the police or security services will be restricted from using its powers of data seizure unless matters of national security are at stake. Without the amendment, the grounds are so vague as to justify almost any data request.
Then the Lords passed Amendment No.15 by 209 to 134, which restricted the Home Secretary's ability to change the code of practice on communications data - another essential safeguard if the new powers given in the bill are not to be open to abuse.
Other defeats included a limit on police powers to force disclosure of financial and tax information; the inclusion of judicial review for any suspected terrorists imprisoned without trial; the refusal to allow the government to opt out of a part of the Convention on Human Rights so it can detain terrorist suspects; and the removal of a clause which would allow EU laws to be pulled into UK law after just a 90-minute debate rather than the inclusion of new legislation.
New amendments are also expected to be introduced at the next hearing that will force the government to renew its powers every few years - a precedent set with the original Terrorism Act, passed in order to deal with Northern Ireland.
However, while the agreed amendments provide essential safeguards on the extensive powers that the Home Secretary has awarded himself, they may still be lost. The government is angry at the number of defeats and has sworn to get the bill through unchanged.
It wants the bill to become law before Christmas, so it only has until next Thursday to come to agreement with the House of Lords. While Conservative peers are extremely unlikely to shift their stance on the 90-minute EU law introduction, they may be persuaded to drop other amendments in the interests of getting the new anti-terrorism laws in place as soon as possible. ®