Tuesday, Jul 26, 2016
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EDITORIAL

British snooping

The European Court of Justice properly overturned a European Union directive that would have forced telecommunications companies to store data on all of their customers for as long as two years. In response, British Prime Minister David Cameron is countermanding the spirit of the ruling and doubling down on the failed policies of mass surveillance.

Mr. Cameron plans to rush an “emergency data plan” through Parliament. It would require British companies to continue to store the time, date, location, and recipient of every telephone call, email, and text message sent by British citizens for a year.

Even though the court issued its ruling in April, Mr. Cameron seems to have realized the emergency just before Parliament’s recess date. The silver lining is that Mr. Cameron had to compromise with opposition parties and accept major reviews by Parliament of existing surveillance laws and the creation of an independent civil liberties board. It’s an incremental step toward curbing the insatiable appetite of the Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the U.S. National Security Agency.

But at a time when British press freedoms and civil liberties are eroding, reviews will not be enough. Unburdened by First Amendment-like guarantees, British authorities forced the destruction of The Guardian news organization’s hard drives and detained a journalist at an airport for nine hours under an anti-terror provision. For all of its flaws in reacting to the disclosures of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the American government never went that far.

It’s disquieting to see America’s No. 1 ally become a permanent surveillance state. Parliament’s future reviews of British laws may restore some protection for civil liberties. They can’t come soon enough.

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