Senior politicians unite to issue call for data bill


Watch Allegra Stratton's full BBC Newsnight report on the significance of this united call for further monitoring powers

Senior politicians from across the political divide have united to call for UK security services to be given greater internet monitoring powers.

In a letter to The Times newspaper three former Labour home secretaries, three senior Tories and one Liberal Democrat urge changes.

They say "coalition niceties" must not hinder counter terror efforts.

A bill allowing the monitoring of all UK citizens' internet use was dropped after Liberal Democrat opposition.

However, following the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich there have been calls for the Communications Data Bill, dubbed the "snoopers' charter" by opponents, which was shelved in May to be revived.

Start Quote

Coalition niceties and party politics must not get in the way of giving our security services the capabilities they need to stay one step ahead of those that seek to destroy our society”

End Quote Quote from letter issued by Jack Straw, David Blunkett, Alan Johnson, Lord Baker, Lord King, and Lord Carlile

The letter was signed by former Labour home secretaries Jack Straw, David Blunkett and Alan Johnson, along with former Conservative home secretary Lord Baker and defence secretary Lord King, and Liberal Democrat Lord Carlile, who until 2011 was the independent reviewer of government anti-terror laws.

In issuing the letter Mr Straw teamed up with Ben Wallace, the MP for Wyre and Preston North and parliamentary aide to minister without portfolio Ken Clarke. As a parliamentary aide Mr Wallace must not differ from the government position.

The letter, which was passed to Newsnight and which will be published in The Times on Friday, puts renewed pressure on the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, whose party claimed a month ago they would not allow the bill to become law while the Liberal Democrats were in government.

It also shows support amongst backers of the bill is undiminished, despite claims British security services used information gathered on UK citizens by Prism - the US secret intelligence programme revealed last week.

Instead, referring to the recent murder of Drummer Rigby, they write: "When such a threat reveals itself, government has a duty to ensure they can do all they can to counter it."

Without Liberal Democrat support in parliament, the Conservatives alone could not get the bill on to the statute book, but this letter is the first sign that Labour politicians are prepared to combine in principle with the Conservative party to help ensure the security services are given the new powers.

In an attack on Liberal Democrat opposition, they write: "Coalition niceties and party politics must not get in the way of giving our security services the capabilities they need to stay one step ahead of those that seek to destroy our society."

They also accuse the Liberal Democrats of siding with the interests of large communications companies, writing: "We find it odd that many critics of the Bill prefer to champion the rights of corporations over democratically accountable law enforcement agencies."

Speculation is mounting in Westminster that to avoid complicated votes in parliament, measures will be brought forward by Home Secretary Theresa May that are not presented in a formal bill, but instead use other means of achieving the same ends.

People on laptops The shelved Communications Data Bill would allow access to all Britons' web browsing history

The Communications Data Bill would have given police and security services access, without a warrant, to details of all online communication in the UK - such as the time, duration, originator and recipient, and the location of the device from which it was made.

It would also give access to some details of Britons' web browsing history and details of messages sent on social media. The police would have to get a warrant from the home secretary to be able to access the actual content of conversations and messages.

In April, Mr Clegg told his weekly LBC radio phone-in: "What people have dubbed the snoopers' charter - I have to be clear with you, that's not going to happen."

"In other words the idea that the government will pass a law which means there will be a record kept of every website you visit, who you communicate with on social media sites, that's not going to happen. It's certainly not going to happen with Liberal Democrats in government."

"We all committed ourselves at the beginning of this coalition to learn the lessons from the past, when Labour overdid it, trying to constantly keep tabs on everyone. We have a commitment in this Coalition Agreement to end the storage of internet information unless there is a very good reason to do so."

But in the letter the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat grandees say: "Far from being a 'snoopers' charter', as critics allege, the draft bill, seeks to match our crime fighting capabilities to the advances in technologies.

"The proposed Communications Data Bill does not want access to the content of our communications but does want to ensure that enough data is available in the aftermath of an attack to help investigators establish 'who, where and when' were involved in planning or supporting it."

Allegra Stratton Article written by Allegra Stratton Allegra Stratton Political editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Ridiculous! 1984 creeping in here. We are being held in a very dubious scenario. Security services often tell us how well they have performed, but we can not assess that because they can not release the evidence 'for security reasons'.

    Reaction to Prism? The USA had info on 9/11 and Boston but failed to stop these events.

    We are seeing a manipulation, the worrying part is why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    As I see it the thrust of the argument for these politicians is that terrorists are trying to destroy our society. I would suggest that not one terrorist in history has done and damage to rights or freedoms in the west only spineless politicians.
    As the saying goes "A society that will trade a little liberty for a little order will lose both, and deserve neither"
    Shame on them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    @1 Mike...
    People died protecting our freedoms and rights.
    Your fear of the unknown is nothing compared to the realities of the terror going to be caused by the fact that government will misuse any powers they gain to invade your privacy.
    I have nothing to fear from the unknown After all every human born is born knowing nothing!
    Do you know which hearbeat is your last? do you fear it constantly?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    "However, following the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich"

    Not only would police/local authorities monitoring all UK internet use without a warrant due to one terrorist attack be grossly disproportionate, but I haven't heard a single objective, evidenced-based argument for how these powers would have prevented Woolwich.

    Cynical, manipulative and dangerous. Go through the courts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Totalitarian state here we come. You as an individual have no right to privacy.

    What price Magna Carta.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    With no evidence to support the claim that the snoopers charter might have prevented the Woolwich murder, what new reasons have we been given that the bill needs to be re-introduced? As it stood it was one of the most dangerous and invasive bills ever to be put forward, and I for one would not, and will not, vote for a local MP who supports it. Freedom is not price worth paying for 'safety'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.





    etc etc

    And are MOSAD blowing thins up in the US over Obama seemingly dragging his heels on Syria / Iran?!......Just a question I have no idea of cause

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    this is power they cant be trusted with!

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    We are doomed if we do not unite and take a stand against this NOW!

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    This will make both Labour and Conservative unelectable in the next election.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    I just seem to remember the MPs expenses scandal. All that CCTV - all looking precisely the wrong way ... ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    NSA spy for UK and GCHQ spy for US then both exchange notes on terror suspects.

    This is what the security services have been doing for years to circumvent American and British law.

    Now the security services want to take control of their own national security, instead of relying on each other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    The fact that these discredited politicians are united says it all. This policy must be resisted at all costs. Governments are always trying to exercise more control over their citizens. Woolwich had nothing to do with Internet security but all to do with human failings in the security services

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Sanity overrides the paranoia of the immature left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    They are not "from across the political divide", they are all on one side of it: the professional political side, for the establishment versus the rest of us.

    I am not against the collection of network data. As long as it is *all* network data (including most importantly government network traffic) and as long as it is *all* made publicly available. It's the only way we can watch the watchers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    They already monitor everything. They are just trying to legalise it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    What a great idea. There will never be another totalitarian or authoritarian government in the future will there? Food is plentiful, the planet can hold 200 million easily. All this talk of the Marxist LRS (Long range strategy) to collapse the western economy and society is just that. Best we know how every individual "thinks" and "acts" now and record it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Any one think that people who do not wish to be monitored will just go back to pens and paper? This isn't for "terror", it's for policing of the population incase we ever decide to turn off Big Brother or Downton Abbey and head down to the Capital to remove the fat cat bankers and their MP henchmen who have robbed and stole from the common person.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    disgusting invasion of privacy. together with the current trend of net censorship, it just goes to show that all the major political parties have no interest in what the public actually want. big brother gone mad. i for one will be voting pirate party in the next elections to make my feelings clear to the next government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    If you value security over freedom you will end up losing both


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