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 41.

    A couple of years ago, a leading Tory when asked "Who had been the best post war Tory Home Secretary?"
    He replied "It's a toss up between Jim Callaghan and David Blunkett".

    The Labour Party lending its support to this kind of Draconian nonsense comes as no surprise to me.

    The next election will have the lower turnout since the Reform Act.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    @29 - close.. last 30 years at least of politicians, last 40 years of policing, and you forgot the bankers and big businesses who have been working hand in hand with the corrupt politicians and left us in the financial mess.
    @31 Does not make it right either way
    @8 You a little confused? It wasn;t the paranoid left that opposed the bill was the sensible middle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety. Benjamin franklin.

    I agree with Ben. No increase in snooping powers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    It’s funny how Governments want its citizen’s business out in the open for it to see, but it does not want its own business out in the open for its citizen’s to see.

    Yes, funny that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Here's an idea, how about CCTV in every home or a member of the security services calling on everyone at home to check what they are doing?

    Please watch 1984, if we continue to infringe of privacy and freedom then the terrorists have won. There wouldn't be so many plots in the UK if the UK didn't keep getting involved in regime change wars.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    So are we heading to a fundamental change in the law? That is where this is leading, presumption of guilt. So here is thing, cos a bigger percentage of politicians was sent to prison for fiddling there expenses should we send them all to prison. Freedom is not free but we have been paying the price for it years, and this is one step way too far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Oh and after her attendance at Bilderberg I'm interested in Shirley Williams position on this subject now!

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


  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    what do the opinions of these failed political has been's matter. It is way past time that the opinions of the British public counted for something on major issues. Politicians do not seem to like that concept.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    let's put this another way: let politicians unite & pass a bill to permit all letters sent in envelopes to be opened & read by govt staff at post office sorting offices. Then neither sender nor receiver will uncover any analysis made, freedom of information act does not apply since it'll be subject to "national security".

    is this acceptable?

    We used to condemn totalitarian countries for this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    What happens if we all stop using the internet? Obama said that to have 100% security you need to give up privacy! How do we have 100% security?

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Because there not already doing it...

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Suppose they are deterred from using the internet? They will only switch to another medium being oddly well funded with satellites and stuff. Determination says that for every problem there's a workaround, for every battle in cyberspace there is a real world conflict (eg nationalism). The web closes the distance between people who would not ordinarily interact. You can't fix ideas quick enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    "if you are not guilty of anything then what is there to fear?" let me give you a list... corrupt politicians (for examples see the last decade of UK politics), corrupt police (for examples see last 30 years of Police history), hackers, corrupt civil servants, corrupt judges... the list goes on but when too much power is centralised then abuse of that power isn't far behind (See the Prism scandal)

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    We have freedom and rights. Wars have been fought, many millions have died for it. Monitoring our every move undermines all of our freedoms and rights we do have.

    I value my rights to privacy and i should be able to be trusted by others to sit in my house and have a phone call with friends, without fear of my every word being listened to by who knows!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    @1 I hope you were being sarcastic. What is happening is neither freedom or democracy.

    The only reason these people are doing this is because they are corrupt and paranoid. They know they are in the wrong, and they are trying to do whatever they can to prevent themselves getting their just desserts.

    One day people will get off their apathetic backsides and give them the hell they have coming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    If this is about counter terrorism then it clearly isn't needed. In the past 5 years without these powers there has only been one death in the UK that appears to be from terrorism. And in that case there is no evidence these powers would have made a difference.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    That is because the 'divide' is a fiction. It is three faces of a one party state. Journalist state lackey doesn't hold to account a parliamentary opposition which doesn't hold to account the executive. Another 'consensus' just like with the digital economy act that was put through in the wash-up at the end of the last parliament. British democracy, abysmal as ever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    And the terrorists have almost won...

    They've pushed the UK to the point where we are more in fear of state snooping on our private lives than we are of the potential terrorist acts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Looks like the next government could be a LibDem landslide, then...

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.


    Ah, "the innocent have nothing to fear". Here are three things they should fear: illegal data access, corruption and unjust laws.


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