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 61.

    Interesting to see only the liberals are interested in defending our rights now. I can't see how being able to monitor our emails and web activity is going to stop a looney with a knife. Security is no replacement for liberty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Seven politicians have called for greater internet surveillance powers? Well that's hardly unilateral is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    This is Mass Surveillance NOT Intelligence.
    We already had information on the people who murdered Lee Rigby but not the resources to keep tabs on them. Why spend billions on a storing masses of information that won't prevent a crime? The Security Services would rather have 1000 more Intelligence Officers. This is Big Business lobbying for their next failed IT project to line their pockets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    There is only one solution but you can die before achieving it they figured out you need surveillance from watching the meerkats fend off predators and chirp warnings to their little pack and then evolution makes striding progress since they lived long enough to figure out you can rang them with a wok.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    So we basically have no choice in the matter

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    None of this accounts for the fact that a thoughtful Joint Select Committee - not Clegg - said: "We accept that there is a case for legislation ... but we believe that the draft Bill pays insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy, and goes much further than it need or should for the purpose of providing necessary and justifiable official access to communications data."

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    CCTV in the home has already arrived. Its called your laptop and in UTAH all webcam and mic activity is being stored right now as you type for all posterity. A full scale, full on, total collapse of trust in the institution of government as we knew it is probably now irreversible. Who wants to live like a suck-it-up lemming, no one I know. Someone needs to tell these clowns.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Give them an inch and they'll take a mile. We've already had councils abusing these sort of powers over the allocation of school places, dodgy parking and the like. Allow anymore erosions of freedom and Franklin's truism on freedom and liberty will have arrived.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Conspiracy Theorists believe that some atrocities are staged to allow governments to gain more control of our lives - a ridiculous argument, too many whistle blowers about.

    Others believe in even more freedom for ourselves but that means more freedom for our terrorists too.

    We should appreciate the efforts our security services make on our behalf.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Oh terrific(!)
    "To the future or to the past, to an age where thought is free.... from the age of thoughtcrime and doublethink... greetings."

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    The nazis may of lost the battle but they def won the War

    Welcome to Soviet United kingdom of Europe where your "security" is our top priority.

    Whilst the "Terrorists" are about we will have to remove your rights and spy on you without probably cause or due process


    Where are they going to draw the line on this "security" which there pretty useless at!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    It would be better if the security forces could read the content of emails/texts of genuine suspects and not have access to the rest of our data. It would also help if the police arrested preachers of hate and M15 and M16 did not try and recruit would-be terrorists in the vain hope they would 'turn'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    The two suspects that are accused of killing Lee Rigby didnt strike me as patrons of the information super highway. I doubt they utilise any aspects of modern high speed communication at all. I think it is a very tentative argument to put forward to justify covert spying on the masses as a preventative measure for a reoccurrance of crimes of this nature.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    If politicians believe so strongly in this, then put it in their election manifesto's and lets see who gets elected on this mandate too snoop. I don't belive any of the coalition was voted in to snoop upon us, and nor did they put this (I believe) in their ever changing election manifesto, so represent and put it to the people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Blanket monitoring of private people lives is wrong. Just give the services quicker and more robust abilities to intercept the comms of SUSPECTS only without the need for blanket monitoring of the entire free nation and storing of unworkable amounts of networking data and drag. Seriously I worry about the state of this country at the moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    To give police and security services the right to monitor all communication data is a recipie for a civil liberties /privacy disaster. It's impossible to guarantee that it will only be used to deal with terrorism and serious organised crime. Usage of the anti-terrorism bill has not been confined to war on terror.
    What stops any officialy body snooping on people who oppose their policies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Lee Rigby would not have been saved by new powers so any mention of him is just political opportunism and an insult to his family. This lot should just learn to go away gracefully they had their time in office. Given the number of MP`s who seem to have trouble with basic morality like not stealing from the public purse I certainly wouldn’t trust them with a complex issue like privacy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Is this the same Newsnight that saw a tweet, arranged a car and interview before the person was arrested and charged with terrorism offences and couldn't get his dates right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    And what about the citizens of this country? Do we have a say? I don't applaud politicians stitching up shabby little deals in secret. I don't want to give up freedoms enshrined in the Magna Carta and many acts since, just because politicians are running scared. They may be spineless, but the majority of people in this country are not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    All of our internet activity can be monitored via ISPs, your data is sold to other organisations all the time - why do you think you have so many nuisance calls?
    The bill's benefits stretch beyond terrorism. Is your concept of freedom of speech more important than tackling child pornography, email fraud, hate crimes, illegal trading etc?
    Criminals use the internet - it is important to monitor.


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