Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch has warned that the Coronavirus Bill published today contains the “most draconian powers in peace time Britain” and urged close scrutiny from Parliamentarians.
The campaign organisation warned that the Coronavirus Bill:
- Empowers police, immigration officers and public health officials to demand documentation; detain and isolate members of the public potentially indefinitely, including children; and forcibly take biological samples for testing
- Permits prohibition of public events and gatherings without standard protections for strikes and industrial action that exist in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004
- Weakens safeguards on the exercise of mass surveillance powers by quadrupling time review limits for urgent warrants
The civil liberties organisation warned that some of the sweeping powers are “unprecedented, unexplained and simply unjustified”.
Big Brother Watch has questioned whether relaxation of protections on mass surveillance powers could signal that the powers could be used more extensively during the pandemic. Countries including Israel and China have reportedly used phone tracking to enforce quarantine restrictions on people suspected of infection with COVID-19.
News reports this evening suggested that o2 has been asked by the Government to hand over “anonymous mobile phone location data in order to ensure people are following social distancing guidelines”. However, phone location data is rarely truly “anonymous”. Big Brother Watch demanded an explanation from Government.
Director of Big Brother Watch, Silkie Carlo, said:
“It is right that Government is taking rapid and robust action to protect public health, but we cannot let basic rights fall casualty to this crisis. Our country faces challenges best when we hold onto our values, not abandon them.
“The Bill contains blank cheque powers to detain and test ‘potentially infectious’ members of the public and even children in unidentified isolation facilities on threat of criminal sanctions. That could be any one of us. It contains sweeping powers to shut down even political assemblies, which could thwart the possibility of public protest against this power grab in the months ahead.
“These breath taking powers demand utmost caution, the closest scrutiny and the strictest time limitations. Many of the powers are unprecedented, unexplained and simply unjustified. The two-year duration of the Act has not been justified and is totally out of step with the existing legal standards for emergency regulations.
“This is no time for parliamentarians to abdicate their vital function of scrutiny. These extraordinary powers risk permanently rebalancing the relationship between citizens and the state.
“This crisis requires the public’s courage and co-operation, not our criminalisation. These are the most draconian powers ever proposed in peace-time Britain and they require urgent review and reform.”
Spokespeople are available for interview. Please contact 07730 439257 / email@example.com
Big Brother Watch will publish a briefing on the Bill in due course.