The Committee of Privy Counsellors set up to review the controversial Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 have now published their review:
This contentious Act was passed in December 2001, as a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
Instead of concentrating on specific Anti-Terrorist measures, the Act was rushed through Parliament, without the usual debate or scrutiny and contained a rag bag of controversial measures some of which had been previously rejected e.g. detention without trial, or some which were irrelevant as they are adequately covered by other laws e.g. it became a specific offence to detonate a nuclear weapon in the UK without permission.
The sneakiest aspect was the assertion that the extraordinary powers enacted for Anti-Terrrorism purposes could and would be used as part of general policing. This applies particularly to the Data Sharing provisions and especially to Part 11 Retention of Communications Data.
The Data Retention section was forced through "on the nod" without a single word of debate in the Commons when the Act was passed. It did spawn a Voluntary Scheme and Code of Practice for the Retention of Communications Data, for longer than would be needed for normal business purposes, and which would therefore be destroyed, or anonymised, to comply with the fundamental principles of the Data Protection Act.
In the 2 years since the passage of the Act, the Government has failed to agree with the Telephone or Internet industries about precisely what data is required to be retained and for how long, and how much of the extra cost involved in doing this, the Government is willing to pay for.
The vast majority of this Retained Communications Data will be that of entirely innocent people. The longer it is kept beyond when it is required for business purposes, the more likely that innocent people's privacy will be abused by faceless petty officials or by criminals. The surest safeguards are not to collect too much data in the first place, and to only keep it for the minimum time necessary, i.e. the fundamental and long established Principles of Data Protection enacted in the UK and in all civilised countries.
It is worth noting that the UK stands alone in contemplating such an Orwellian Big Brother Data Retention scheme, not even the United States sees the need for such an anti-terrorist measure.
We are very disappointed that the Committee chose to ignore (as did the Home Office during its Consultation on Data Retention) the fact that there is a whole category of data which would be of immense use in fighting terrorism, but which is currently unregulated and is very variable in quality and inconsistent in different parts of the country, namely Closed Circuit TeleVision (CCTV) Surveillance Camera Data.
We have been calling for the Regulation of CCTV Surveillance Cameras in the UK for several years now. The number of them deployed is almost literally without measure, but there are no legally enforcable minimum standards which they need to comply with.
Surely there should be a mandatory requirement to register CCTV Surveillance systems so that the authorities do not waste valuable time trying to hunt down possible CCTV systems during a post terrorist incident investigation ?
Surely the CCTV operators should retain video tapes or digital images for a common, standard period of time e.g. a week or a month ?
Why is the Regulation of CCTV Surveillance not considered to be part of the Anti-Terrorist measures of this Act ? Just because it was left out of the original Act, why should it not be considered and debated now ?
If the current informal, slapdash policy of Data Preservation of CCTV Surveillance Data is considered to be adequate for our national security, why should this principle not also apply to Communications Data ?
From the Home Secretary's response, it does not seem likely that he will take on board any of the Committee's recommendations, let alone our suggestions.