Draft Communications Data Bill cannot proceed - Nick Clegg

 

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Plans to give police and intelligence services the power to monitor all email and internet use in the UK need a "fundamental rethink", Nick Clegg says.

The deputy prime minister said he would block the draft Communications Data Bill and push for plans ensuring "the balance between security and liberty".

His comments came as a committee of MPs and peers criticised the bill's scope.

The Home Office said the new laws were needed "without delay" to stop serious crimes such as terrorism.

The Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaderships agree on the need for new measures, but they disagree over their scope.

The plans in the draft bill include:

  • Internet service providers having to store for a year all details of online communication in the UK - such as the time, duration, originator and recipient of a communication and the location of the device from which it was made.
  • They would also be having to store for the first time all Britons' web browsing history and details of messages sent on social media, webmail, voice calls over the internet and gaming, in addition to emails and phone calls
  • Police not having to seek permission to access details of these communications, if investigating a crime
  • Police having to get a warrant from the home secretary to be able to see the actual content of any messages
  • Four bodies having access to data: the police, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the intelligence agencies and HM Revenue and Customs

Civil liberties campaigners have described the proposals as a "snoopers' charter", but Home Secretary Theresa May insists they are vital for countering paedophiles, extremists and fraudsters.

'Safeguards'

A report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Bill, made up of MPs and peers, accepted a new law was needed to help police fight crime and tackle security threats organised online.

But it warned ministers would be able to demand "potentially limitless categories of data" unless the draft bill was amended.

Data Communications Bill

  • The Bill would extend the range of data telecoms firms have to store for up to 12 months
  • It would include, for the first time, details of messages sent on social media, webmail, voice calls over the internet and gaming, in addition to emails and phone calls
  • The data would include the time, duration, originator and recipient of a communication and the location of the device from which it was made
  • It would not include the content of messages - what is being said. Officers would need a warrant to see that
  • But they would not need the permission of a judge to see details of the time and place of messages, provided they were investigating a crime or protecting national security
  • Four bodies would have access to data: the police, the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, the intelligence agencies and HM Revenue and Customs
  • Local authorities would face restrictions on the kinds of data they can access

It called for "safeguards" over the new powers to prevent abuse and accused the government of producing estimates of the cost of implementing the plans which were not "robust" enough.

The "net benefit figure" was "fanciful and misleading", it said.

The MPs and peers added that the draft bill paid "insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy" and went "much further than it need or should for the purpose of providing necessary and justifiable official access to communications data".

Mr Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the committee had raised "a number of serious criticisms - not least on scope, proportionality, cost, checks and balances, and the need for much wider consultation".

"It is for those reasons that I believe the coalition government needs to have a fundamental rethink about this legislation. We cannot proceed with this bill and we have to go back to the drawing board."

But he added: "The committee did not, however, suggest that nothing needs to be done. They were very clear that there is a problem that must be addressed to give law enforcement agencies the powers they need to fight crime. I agree.

"But that must be done in a proportionate way that gets the balance between security and liberty right."

'Secret notices'

In its report, the committee said the home secretary would be given "sweeping powers to issue secret notices to communications service providers, requiring them to retain and disclose potentially limitless categories of data".

But it added: "We have been told that she has no intention of using the powers in this way. Our main recommendation is therefore that her powers should be limited to those categories of data for which a case can now be made."

If these powers needed to be enhanced in future, this should be done with "effective parliamentary scrutiny", it said.

The home secretary wants the bill in place next year.

This bill wasn't dreamt up by Tory ministers in the coalition.

The previous Labour government came up with the first plans after the intelligence and security community said it needed modern tools to combat modern threats - threats organised online rather than through invisible ink messages left under park benches.

So the controversy is not about the bill's aim, but its scope - something we have seen in other pieces of security legislation since the coalition took office. Powers to hold terror suspects in their own home and the current bill to protect state secrets in courts were both cut back as part of coalition compromise. In each case ministers aimed to protect the primary purpose.

The question is whether this particular bill will be able to do its job if it goes through the same exercise - and that's why Nick Clegg will face claims of playing politics with security.

Security minister James Brokenshire told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there was a "legitimate debate" to be had.

He added that he wanted to "rebalance" the bill, so that "it's properly reflecting the needs of the collective and the needs of the individual".

Mr Brokenshire also said: "If there were to be any extension, that would have to be through the full scrutiny of Parliament. We are saying very clearly that we accept that."

He added: "We know that we need to work this through the coalition."

For Labour, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government was "making a complete mess of a very important issue".

"It is important that the police and security services can keep up to date with modern technology, but this bill is too widely drawn, is unworkable and gives far too much power to the home secretary without proper safeguards."

She added: "It is astonishing that the Home Office have had so little discussion with the internet companies who need to deliver this legislation. The Government have been slipshod with this bill from the word go."

A Home Office spokesman said: "This legislation is vital to help catch paedophiles, terrorists and other serious criminals and we are pleased both scrutiny committees have recognised the need for new laws.

"We have now considered the committees' recommendations carefully and we will accept the substance of them all. But there can be no delay to this legislation. It is needed by law enforcement agencies now."

The Intelligence and Security Committee, which has sent a classified report on its findings to Prime Minister David Cameron, after speaking to the security services, called for more detail to be included in the draft bill.

It recommended that it be "future-proofed" to ensure extra powers are not added without scrutiny, adding that there had been "insufficient consultation" between ministers and internet providers.

 

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  • rate this
    +69

    Comment number 669.

    It staggers me just how popular the 'help the government make us safer' argument is, as if we now have to accept that we are to be forever under the hammer of terrorist thugs.

    If we continue to sacrifice our freedom in a sick Orwellian nightmare, the extremists we are trying to protect ourselves from will have won and we will have lost what made our society worth defending in the first place.

  • rate this
    -92

    Comment number 275.

    I support this bill if they simply want a record of who sent what/when.

    The data they want is no different to what is written on a postal mail, it is not the contents of the letter they want.

    Why is this a problem if the email header (not content) is provided to law enforcement which is only being used to keep innocent people safe and weed out the weeds in society that do harm?

  • rate this
    +103

    Comment number 95.

    I'm no fan of Nick Clegg, but he is right to block this insane plan.

    Anyone with anything to hide (criminals, terrorists etc) will just encrypt the data anyway. This will just monitor and police the law-abiding majority.

    1984 was meant to be a warning, not an instruction manual.

  • rate this
    +188

    Comment number 40.

    It was a bad idea under Labour and remains a bad idea now.

    Perhaps if we had the right to see all government emails and browsing then might be willing to reconsider!

  • rate this
    -183

    Comment number 28.

    Here we go again, a sensible idea aimed at making our land safer blocked by short sighted lib dems. If you are doing nothing wrong whats the problem. The only people who should fear this are the ones with something to hide.

 

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