Gloucestershire PCC revives 'snoopers charter' bill debate

A call to reopen the debate into the so-called snoopers charter has been launched by Gloucestershire's Police and Crime Commissioner.

Independent Martin Surl has written to Home Secretary Theresa May on behalf of 21 PCCs declaring their support for the Communications Data Bill.

Mr Surl said extra powers were needed to fight terrorism and organised crime.

The bill allowing monitoring of all UK citizens' internet use was dropped in May after Liberal Democrat opposition.

'Vitally important'

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.

But police would have had to get a warrant from the home secretary to be able to access the actual content of conversations and messages.

Martin Surl, a former police officer with experience of counter terrorism, said: "It is vitally important that legislation keeps pace with developments in technology and the ever growing variety of ways in which people can communicate with one another.

"As it stands, the police can identify anyone who has made a telephone call or sent an SMS text message, when and from where.

"But they are legally prohibited from doing the same for email, internet telephony, instant messaging or other internet-based services because communications service providers do not retain all of the relevant data.

"Those of my fellow PCCs, who have signed a letter to Mrs May, and I, believe this inability is inhibiting operations in counter terrorism and against organised crime".

'Threat to UK'

Emma Carr, from privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: "I think people would like to be able to go around their daily business without the thought that their communications are being gathered unnecessarily.

"We have a limited amount of resources in this country and we need to use those properly. We need to tackle the people who intelligence-led information [shows are] a threat to the UK.

"Those are the people who should be monitored - not people who are not under the radar of the security services and the police."

Security and intelligence expert Professor Anthony Glees, from the University of Buckingham, said: "This isn't about snooping - it's about investigating people and it's not about investigating everybody.

"It's about investigating anybody against whom there is serious intelligence. Our secret agencies can't just tap into communications like that.

"They need to go through a very rigorous procedure of getting permission to do so. This isn't a kind of Stasi state."

In the letter, written by 21 of the UK's 41 PCCs, to the Home Secretary, the PCCs said: "We believe it is an integral part of the armoury necessary to ensure future safety of citizens and a necessary tool to protect, conditional on stringent safeguards on data security and civil liberties, and should be reviewed on a regular basis".

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