Tories spread more confusion over communications data

The House of Lords has just voted by the narrow margin of 93 to 89 to defeat an amendment moved by the Tories to the Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009. 

These Regulations bring the UK into line with the EU Data Retention Directive of 2006 and require communications providers to retain  certain data for a fixed periodof one year.  (Previously, the UK had postponed applying the regulations – as was required by the Directive – to internet access, internet telephony and email.)

The Tories’ position might have been defensible on the grounds that they do not like EU directives – a point of principle that would be consistent with the decision (announced, but not implemented) to pull their MEPs out of the European Peoples Party grouping in the European Parliament.

However, the reason they gave was the entirely spurious one that this was part of some hidden conspiracy to require service providers to keep the contents of communications.  So one of their backbenchers kept jumping up and down asking whether the Regulations required communications services providers to keep data recovered by deep packet inspection.  The answer was as explicit as it could be:  paragraph 4(5) says “No data revealing the content of a communication is to be retained in pursuance of these Regulations.”  The only purpose in mentioning it  was to sow confusion and to mislead.

I suppose that is what opposition is all about.  And they nearly won the vote. 

However, their amendment was not fatal.  It would still have allowed the Regulations to come into force.  All it did was to add a rider to the approval motion noting the proposals “with regret”. 

So the grounds were spurious, the amendment was spurious (in that it had no effect) and perhaps the indignation was spurious.  If this is opposition, it is pretty spurious itself.

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