Emergency surveillance legislation being rushed through parliament next week could end up being used for purposes beyond which it is intended, the Law Society has warned.
The warning comes as MPs prepare to pass the Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Bill to require internet and phone companies to keep records of the time, date and place of their customers’ emails and calls.
The legislation is a response to a European Court of Justice ruling in April that the current retention of data by communications service providers for law enforcement purposes breached article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which guarantees respect for private life.
In addition to the emergency legislation, the government will start a review of the controversial Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which allows for the interception of communications.
The Law Society has called for a review of RIPA and associated legislation for some years. Its president Andrew Caplen welcomed the move, but said the emergency surveillance legislation was ‘particularly worrying’.
Caplen said: ‘We are concerned that introducing emergency legislation does nothing to enhance the rule of law or address the fact that we are increasingly becoming a surveillance society. The history of emergency legislation is not exemplary, with laws being used for purposes for which they were not intended.
‘There needs to be a public debate about how to strike the right balance between security, freedom and privacy. We need to simplify and clarify a complex and confusing legal framework and ensure that it protects human rights.’
The Society called for a review of the legal and practical framework of surveillance in the UK and explicit legislative protection for legal professional privilege in legislation such as RIPA.