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, Newsnight

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  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    It will be a dire day for this country when rights which people from preceding generations have died for us to have are so easily swept aside in response to some utterly evil terrorists who are playing us for all its worth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    To those who say "if you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear," I say you are very wrong. There is plenty to fear. I fear the secret state and the government as much as I fear the terrorists. Fear is a natural part of life. If we have pirated porn on our computers we must swallow the fear and let the secret state scumbags do their job of catching terrorists. End of story.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    I assume since the government will have access to all of our internet, phone call and location data....then each day the same data will be publicly published on government members so we can keep track on them? afterall no law abiding politician has anything to fear....

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Great....And so it begins.

    Revolution anyone......?



    Ok, back to Britain's Got Talent I suppose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    The idea that law enforcement agencies (especially the secret services) are 'democratically accountable' is completely laughable, as recent events have proven. These terrifying proposals are to create a total surveillance police state, the like of which the Stasi could only dream of.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    #67 Big Joh the Red

    USA already has in place laws enabling the micro-chipping of people... where the USA goes we rush to follow - so some daft reason

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    A very wise politician once said that those who give up liberty for security will find they have neither. Still relevant today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Why are the British always so eager to ape the US

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    @ Mike - This is not the price of living in a democracy. This is a sure symptom of living in a police state.
    @ Allegra - How you manage to equate 4 politicians agreeing as some grand consensus I can only imagine.
    @ BBC - Coverage of these leaks has been abysmal. There have been numerous stories on other sites about how, for instance, Clapper admitted lying to congress, that BBC ignored completely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I might stop opposing this when the signatories of this letter make ALL records of their email and Internet use available for public scrutiny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    After the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby I hope our security forces have the ability to now go and search data which may lead to other animals being identified as potential threats to law abiding citizens. And before you mark this down please read the whole of this and you might understand

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    @53. dibbler88

    conspiracy theorists may make outlandish claims, but they continue to exists & flourish because classified govt data released decades later often vindicate the initial "fantasists".

    whilst we all value defence of the realm, to what extend do we submit to its control of the individual? including thoughts & opinions? Then why should we be sanctimonious & criticise despotic regimes?

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    You cannot have 100% security and 100% privacy; too many people think they can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    What? I must be dreaming. More surveillance? More scrutiny? Terror? What terror? This is insane.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Why not "chip" us all like dogs and have done with it?

    Oh, and in the UK, you are around 50 times more like to die of an allergic reaction to a cat than in a terrorist attack!

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Show me where in the snoopers charter they have developed the technology to crack encrypted tunnelled traffic. Any idiot with a VPN renders this legislation pointless.

    It is a gross oversight to allow those in power to acquire snooping powers that once in place cant be recinded easily. Beware future not-so-benevolent power hungry governments.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    It has taken a thousand years for us to win the level of freedom of speech and action that we now enjoy so we should be prepared to accept risks and dangers in order to maintain it and not be browbeaten into accepting any further curtailment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    The only time the parties unite is when someone dies or when they are planning something bad for the nation.

    Take note.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    I can't believe these people have the gall to push ahead with this in light of what we now know. We need new elections, and then we need monitoring of security services by a civilian-led court answerable to the electorate. What does it say about our countries when the people are more suspicious of our government, and more fearful of speaking out, than we are of terrorists?

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    The last paragraph says it all "to ensure that enough data is available in the aftermath of an attack"

    The bill has nothing to do with "prevention" and there is enough evidence after an attack to prove who did it...anyways if it is a terror group they will readily admit responsibility to gain publicity in the name of whatever cause they are fighting for


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