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We must protect civil liberties now, more than ever 

Dear friends, 

We are living through extraordinary times. We all face great challenges in the weeks and months ahead. Governments and citizens must take measures to protect public health.

But when society comes under pressure, so do our rights & freedoms. Emergency powers, including new detention powers, are to be "nodded through" Parliament on Thursday. We are urging Parliamentarians to take the utmost care in scrutinising these powers and ensuring that any passed are strictly necessary, proportionate and temporary.

We face challenges best when we hold on to our values rather than abandon them.

Big Brother Watch and civil society as a whole must play an important role in the months to come. Laws that protect our rights and civil liberties were born from times of great hardship and exist precisely to protect public freedom and safety in times of trouble.

Emergency Coronavirus Bill

The Government has published an outline of the Emergency Coronavirus Bill.

It is right that Government takes rapid and robust action, but good laws are rarely made in haste and rights are too often the casualty of crisis.

The Opposition will not seek a vote on this Bill, but the public needs to be reassured that scrutiny is afforded to these extraordinary powers.

The outline of the Bill raises immediate questions:

1. The law will last 2 years.

Government must justify this length given the severity of the measures, which will interfere with the everyday lives of people in the UK. A shorter duration with a sunset clause would ensure the powers are strictly temporary and promptly reviewed.

2. The Bill gives police and immigration officers the power to detain members of the public for Coronavirus testing.

This demands scrutiny and utmost caution. It is unclear in what circumstances this extraordinary power would or could be used. It has complex rights implications.

3. The Bill allows the Home Secretary to significantly extend the time frame for a judicial commissioner to review urgent surveillance warrants.

The time frame for urgent warrants in the UK is already unusually long and, even if later invalidated, does not require deletion of unlawfully collected material. At a time when some countries are turning to draconian phone tracking measures to monitor the spread of COVID-19, relaxation of the few protections we have on mass surveillance powers is concerning.

We now await publication of the full Bill. The Opposition and civil society have important roles to play in scrutinising emergency powers to protect both public health and human rights. We will continue to advocate for proportionate measures.

Minister under fire on facial recognition

We worked with Members of the House of Lords to draft questions for the Home Office Minister, Baroness Williams. On Monday, parliamentarians pressed for an urgent stop to facial recognition surveillance and questioned her on the dangerously inaccurate, invasive and authoritarian surveillance tech.

The Minister responded awfully, with a shocking level of misunderstanding at best and misinformation at worst. This is unacceptable - particularly on an issue that involves fundamental rights and the rule of law. This high office of state deserves much better.

However, her inability to answer the tough questions shows the Government is on the back foot - and we're winning.

Watch the video now:

Protecting rights and freedoms

Our work continues with great determination: from our investigation into police digital strip searches of victims of crime, to our analysis of online censorship and protection of free expression.

We will continue to hold the powerful to account and work with groups across the sector to protect fundamental rights in the months and years ahead.

Please continue to support us and above all, support each other.


Director of Big Brother Watch
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