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Drip drip drip - how debate about our right to privacy was drowned out by the sound of reshuffling

Oh the irony that social media users are currently so distracted by the Prime Minister’s chess board manoeuvring of Ministers ahead of next year’s election, that they aren’t talking about a law (being debated today) which would justify the government’s ability to monitor everything they do…on social media!

#Reshuffle is trending. #DRIP (the new law's "dreary" acronym) isn’t.

Of course it is surprising that William Hague, former Foreign Secretary, has resigned; somewhat concerning that “moderate” Conservatives supportive of human rights law, Dominic Grieve and Kenneth Clarke, have left government; and worthy of countless airtime that – wait for it, this is a biggie – not one but TWO women have been promoted to the dizzy heights of Secretary of State.

But what about the complete circumvention of parliamentary scrutiny so that “emergency” legislation - affecting all our lives in real terms - can be forced into law?

What about a law being passed through Parliament in just two days, when the process normally takes up to a year?

What about MPs, whose fundamental role it is to scrutinise legislation, being given a matter of hours to debate a law which coalition parties must have been discussing for months?

This is what is happening right now with the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill (otherwise known as DRIP, which is fitting given the drip, drip, drip analogy of how civil liberties are often eroded).

Amnesty and other human rights groups have serious concerns about the content of DRIP. But ultimately it is impossible to know what the full implications are without meaningful scrutiny, which is impossible within the few hours being set aside.

What we do know is that the government claims DRIP is necessary – urgently necessary – due to a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that previous data retention legislation was unlawful.

While we agree that the UK government certainly needs new and clearer laws on how its intelligence agencies carry out surveillance, DRIP fails to address the reasons the ECJ struck down the previous law in the first place.

Worse still, the government's justification for pushing through DRIP as emergency legislation, taking away the opportunity for proper and effective parliamentary (and public) scrutiny, is flawed. The government has known about the ECJ judgment since April.

And since the government has achieved cross-party agreement on DRIP - between the three main parties at least (read: shady backroom deals between the leaders) - discussions must have been taking place over a significant period of time.

So it is somewhat of a BIG coincidence that what little debate DRIP is receiving is taking place on one of the busiest political news days this year, if not this parliamentary term. It’s another BIG coincidence that DRIP is being pushed through right before Parliament goes on holiday for 6 weeks…little chance of the time for debate being extended then.

How unfortunate. A cynic might even suggest the government planned it that way.

This is how seriously our MPs take our privacy. Key, critical debate. Almost no-one there. #DRIP

— Paul Bernal (@PaulbernalUK) July 15, 2014

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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