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Letter from the Political Editor: Phone and data laws to be passed in haste



When politicians act in haste, they often repent at leisure. So they should think very carefully before fast-tracking emergency legislation through Parliament. When that law covers details of our internet use and phone calls, they should be even more cautious.

On the face it, yesterday’s announcement that such a measure will be rammed through the Commons next week with only limited debate looks hard to justify. The law is needed to maintain the existing powers that the police and security services use in criminal and terrorist cases. But it stems from a European Court of Justice ruling in April. Some MPs suspect that negotiations between the three main parties were delayed so there would be no time before Parliament’s summer break for the proper scrutiny such a measure requires.

The hasty law is a holding operation while an important debate takes place. By the time the legislation expires at the end of 2016, independent experts will have carried out a full review of what critics call the “surveillance state”. The politicians will reach a fork in the road.

Conservative ministers hope the review will make the case for even greater surveillance powers, including a record of every website we have visited in the past year. Labour and the Liberal Democrats hope the review will recommend more safeguards to protect our privacy. They will have a dilemma if it supports the “snoopers’ charter” favoured by David Cameron.

The terrorist threat is undoubtedly increasing. Law enforcement agencies must keep pace with the ways criminals communicate. Yet the politicians must take the public with them if the state is to hold even more information about us.