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Data Protection Law & Policy

Current Issue (November 2015)

Volume: 12 Issue: 11



About Data Protection Law & Policy:

The monthly law journal which covers all aspects of data protection and data privacy: data transfer & outsourcing, marketing and e-marketing, freedom of information (FOI), employee monitoring, privacy compliance, online data acquisition and consent, personal data, website compliance and emerging technologies such as behavioural advertising, cloud computing and smart grids. / read more

In search of democratic investigatory powers

“It’s all a matter of perspective,” says James Bond in his latest instalment when the baddie disagrees with the world’s favourite spy about who is meant to kill whom. Conflicting perspectives abound when considering the merits, aims and content of the draft Investigatory Powers Bill (‘the IPB’). The UK Government argues that modern investigatory powers are vital for law enforcement and intelligence gathering. Looking at what is currently going on in our streets and the world, it would be difficult to disagree with that. Yet the IPB has provoked a fair amount of criticism and alarm about its impact on civil liberties. The recent terrorist attacks only exacerbate the polarisation of views about this issue, which makes an objective assessment of what is right tremendously difficult.  

History shows that mass surveillance is not compatible with democratic values. Accordingly, it is crucial to ensure that the power of the state to intrude into its citizens’ lives does not lose sight of the need for those values to survive. And that is precisely what the IPB should achieve. The IPB must provide a framework which allows law enforcement and intelligence agencies to do an effective job without giving them cover for potential abuses, no matter how remote the risk of abuse may be. For that reason, it is essential that in the first instance, the IPB is fully scrutinised by the UK Parliament and the public at large.  

A thorough level of scrutiny is even more necessary in respect of this type of legislation than any other. Not only because of its complexity but because of its potential impact on one of the pillars of our society: our freedom. In fact, the UK model will be closely watched and possibly followed by many other modern democracies in the same way that its system of government has been copied around the world over the centuries. The resulting Act of Parliament will need to ensure that no matter how wide and effective the state's powers are, convincing safeguards and robust oversight are built into the system.

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