The civil liberties organisation Liberty has responded with dismay as plans for what it calls "a new Snooper’s Charter" and Secret Courts were included in today's Queen’s Speech. But it welcomed the proposed Defamation Bill as advancing freedom of speech.
Ministers have revived plans for the collection and storage of “communications data” – the records of e-mail, text, phone calls and web browsing – for the entire population. A similar scheme was shelved by the Labour Government in 2009 following a fierce backlash and its fresh inclusion in the Queen’s Speech represents a u-turn on the Coalition’s May 2010 promise to “end the storage of internet and e-mail records without good reason”. Liberty has today launched its No Snoopers’ Charter campaign against the proposals.
Meanwhile the proposed Justice and Security Bill would see secretive Closed Material Procedures extended to all civil proceedings. Liberty says "this dangerous and unnecessary move would not only overturn centuries of Common Law fair trial protections – it would undermine the vital constitutional principle that no-one, including the Government, is above the law."
Elsewhere in the Queen’s Speech there was good news for free speech in the form of a new Defamation Bill, forwhich the human rights community has been actively campaigning. However, there was still no mention of reforming Britain’s unfair extradition laws – something both Coalition partners promised while in opposition.
Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, said: “Two years ago, the Coalition bound itself together with promises and action to protect our rights and freedoms. As the strains of governing in a recession begin to show, politicians of all parties should remember the values that we are all supposed to share. Whilst action on free speech is extremely welcome, proposals for secret courts and a snoopers’ charter risk allowing no scrutiny for them and no privacy for us.