The Protection of Freedoms Bill was introduced into the House of Commons on 11 February 2011.
In the Queen’s Speech of May 2010, the government announced the introduction of legislation that would ‘restore freedoms and civil liberties through the abolition of identity cards and unnecessary laws’. Following this commitment, the Home Office introduced the Identity Documents Bill, which received Royal Assent in December 2010. Identity cards and the National Identity Register have now been abolished.
Safeguarding civil liberties
The Protection of Freedoms Bill marks the next step in the government’s legislative programme to safeguard civil liberties and reduce the burden of government intrusion into the lives of individuals.
The Bill includes a wide range of measures.
- brings in a new framework for police retention of fingerprints and DNA data, and requires schools to get parents’ consent before processing children’s biometric information;
- introduces a code of practice for surveillance camera systems and provides for judicial approval of certain surveillance activities by local authorities;
- provides for a code of practice to cover officials’ powers of entry, with these powers being subject to review and repeal;
- outlaws wheel-clamping on private land;
- introduces a new regime for police stops and searches under the Terrorism Act 2000 and reduces the maximum pre-charge detention period under that Act from 28 to 14 days
- restricts the scope of the ‘vetting and barring’ scheme for protecting vulnerable groups and makes changes to the system of criminal records checks;
- enables those with convictions for consensual sexual relations between men aged 16 or over (which have since been decriminalised) to apply to have them disregarded;
- extends Freedom of Information rights by requiring datasets to be available in a re-usable format;
- repeals provisions (never brought into force) which would have allowed trial without a jury in complex fraud cases;
- removes time restrictions on when marriage or civil partnership ceremonies may take place.
- Theresa May MP
Important issues for organisations
The Bill aims to scale back many of the intrusive powers made under previous governments and the effect will be felt first on relevant public bodies but will also affect private sector organisations (especially those holding public sector information and using CCTV). The Information Commissioner’s Office will be required to provide relevant guidance on the use of personal data following changes in the law under the Bill.
18-03-2011 Information Commissioner Christopher Graham has largely welcomed the Protection of Freedoms Bill – including the government’s plans to reduce the length of time the police can keep biometric information – but has said that some of the proposed changes, such as the future regulation of CCTV, need further consideration. Mr Graham will be giving evidence to the Public Bill Committee on 24 March to ensure these issues are addressed before the Bill is passed into law.
- The Information Commissioner’s evidence to The Public Bill Committee on the Protection of Freedoms Bill