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SNP anger at lack of consultation on emergency data law

THE Scottish Government has hit out at the "lack of prior consultation" from UK ministers before fast-track legislation to ensure police and security services can access mobile and internet data was announced.

EMERGENCY POWERS: Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced the Bill at a joint Downing Street press conference. Picture: Getty News
EMERGENCY POWERS: Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced the Bill at a joint Downing Street press conference. Picture: Getty News

Holyrood Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said he had been disappointed by the development, which was announced by Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg, as control over much of justice legislation is devolved to Scotland.

Home Secretary Theresa May warned MPs innocent lives would be lost if Westminster did not respond swiftly to a European Court of Justice ruling which raised the prospect that communications firms could start deleting crucial material used to tackle terrorists and serious criminals.

Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg announced the Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill at a joint Downing Street press conference, stressing the legislation would maintain the authorities' existing powers rather than add to them.

The UK Government was forced to act after a ruling in April that a European Union data retention directive, implemented by Labour in 2009, was invalid because it interferes with the fundamental right to respect for private life.

Police and security services raised fears that, without this legal underpinning, companies would start deleting data crucial for investigations into a range of serious crime including terrorism, child pornography and drug trafficking.

The Bill will mean firms can retain data for 12 months.

Mr Cameron warned: "Unless we act now companies will no longer retain the data about who contacted who, where and when and we will no longer be able to use this information to bring criminals to justice and keep our country safe.

"This is at the heart of our entire criminal justice system."

The full impact of the l­egislation on Scotland has not yet been established.

Mr MacAskill said ministers north of the Border were "disappointed at the lack of prior consultation and discussion from UK Government on today's announcement given how much this le­gislation potentially impinges on areas of Scots law that are clearly devolved and under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Government or our law enforcement agencies, including the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service".

He added: "While the retention of communications data is currently a reserved matter, the Scottish Government takes the safety and security of our communities extremely seriously.

"In an independent Scotland, this Government will set out clear arrangements for investigatory powers, updating existing legislation where necessary. This will ensure that law enforcement agencies have the powers that they need to do their job and keep Scotland safe, while also clarifying the limit of those powers and the extent of the controls over them."

In the Commons, as the proposed legislation was debated, campaigning Labour MP Tom Watson said: "I have no doubt the Home Secretary will get her Bill through, but the price will be a perception that it is as a result of a last-minute deal between elites with little scrutiny by Parliament or civic society and that the rushed legislation might unravel.

Former Tory home affairs spokesman David Davis called the situation a "predictable" emergency.

He said: "The Home Secretary has justified rushing this through the House on the basis of an emergency.

"The case was put to the ­European Court of Justice some time ago and it took some time to come to its conclusion on April 8.

"So if there is an emergency it was a predictable one."

Meanwhile, Emma Carr, acting director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "It is a basic principle of a free society that you don't monitor people who are not under suspicion.

"Considering the Snoopers' Charter has already been rejected by the public as well as by the highest court in Europe, it is essential that the Government does not rush head-first into creating new legislation."

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