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Lords attack Anti-Terror Bill again

Insists on Parliamentary approval for code of practice

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The Lords has continued to attack the controversial Anti-Terrorism Bill, voting in a tenth amendment yesterday which will ensure public debate of the voluntary code of practice on retaining phone and email data.

Lord Rooker led the charge, claiming that the code of practice does not comply with either the Data Protection Act or the Human Rights Act. Referring to the wording of the relevant part of the Bill, he said: "None of that language is the same as Article 8(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is the exception clause to the fundamental right to respect for personal privacy; nor is it the same as what appears in the data protection principles."

Currently, the bill gives the Home Secretary total control over what the code of practice contains and enables him to make changes as and when he feels appropriate. This, say concerned parties, effectively makes the "voluntary" code of practice for ISPs etc to hand over data to the authorities mandatory since if a company refuses, the government can immediately come back and force it to.

The Lords amendment, if it goes through, will make the code subject to Parliamentary approval - along with any future changes. It will also open the code up to public consultation.

Lord Rooker pleaded that "an appropriate balance is struck between security and civil liberties". Making his stance clear, he said: "I repeat that we want to work voluntarily with industry and the Information Commissioner and everybody involved. We do not want to breach privacy. We are not looking to intrude on people's conversations; we do not want records kept of what they say on the telephone. That is not what we are about. We are not asking data providers to collect new information beyond that which they already collect, so there is no new burden. What we are asking them to do is to save it for longer. The code of practice will deal with that and make it accessible."

The bill will now go back to the House of Commons, where the government is still insisting it will push it through unchanged, although Home Secretary David Blunkett has already made several concessions. ®

Related Links

The Lords debate
The Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Bill (pdf)

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