Today's debate on the Queens Speech has added to our worries about the lack of a properly reformed Communications Data Bill announcement in this session of Parliament.
Our politicians have wasted the chance to simplify and reform the stupidly complicated and secretive Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act..
The preservation of the status quo is a victory for the control freaks at the Home Office and for the political lobbying by the police and intelligence agencies and their private sector IT contractors.
The weasel worded Background Briefing Notes to the Queen's Speech (.pdf) said
Proposals on the investigation of crime in cyberspace
"In relation to the problem of matching internet protocol addresses, my Government will bring forward proposals to enable the protection of the public and the investigation of crime in cyberspace."
The Government is committed to ensuring that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the powers they need to protect the public and ensure national security These agencies use communications data - the who, when, where and how of a communication, but not its content - to investigate and prosecute serious crimes.
Communications data helps to keep the public safe: it is used by the police to investigate crimes, bring offenders to justice and to save lives
This is not about indiscriminately accessing internet data of innocent members of the public.
That is precisely what seemed to be proposed by the Home Office with their plan for expensive , unproven secretive Deep Packet Inspection and magical Automatic Filtering scheme.
As the way in which we communicate changes, the data needed by the police is no longer always available. While they can, where necessary and proportionate to do so as part of a specific criminal investigation, identify who has made a telephone call (or sent an SMS text message) and when and where, they cannot always do the same for communications sent over the internet, such as email, internet telephony or instant messaging. This is because communications service providers do not retain all the relevant data
When communicating over the Internet, people are allocated an Internet Protocol (IP) address . However, these addresses are generally shared between a number of people.In order to know who has actually sent an email or made a Skype call, the police need to now who used a certain IP address at a given point in time. Without this, if a suspect used the internet to communicate instead of making a phone call, it may not be possible for the police to identify them.
The Government is looking at ways of addressing this issue with CSPs. It may involve legislation
The Home Office obviously have not bothered to even read their own legislation, again.
The police already have the power under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 Part II to do this, provided that their targets are the nominated Communications Service providers.
Extra legislation would be needed to force non CSPs e.g. Microsoft Skype to betray their customers' privacy like this/
The Government published its draft proposals last year. The cross party Joint Committee that scrutinised our draft provisions, and the Intelligence and Security Committee, both recognised the need to tackle this problem in legislation. We are continuing to look at this issue closely and the Government's approach will be proportionate, with robust safeguards in place. This is not about indiscriminately accessing internet data of innocent members of the public, it is about ensuring that police and other law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to investigate the activities of criminals that takes place online as well as offline
Both Committees excoriated the "not fit for purpose" business case and lack of technical and financial details put forward by the Home Office. It comes as no surprise that they cherry picked both Reports, to find the one phrase which might support their position i.e. that perhaps more legislation was needed.
The "debate" in the House of Common, such as it was on the Communications Data (non) Bill c.f. Commons Hansard 9 May 2013 : Column 171
.] Theresa May, Home Secretary:, (Con,)
It is one of the fundamental duties of Government to protect the law-abiding public from the effects of criminal behaviour, and I would like to update the House on the position regarding our proposals on communications data. The Government are committed to ensuring that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have the powers they need to protect the public. Existing legislation already allows those agencies to monitor who has communicated by telephone, as well as with whom, when and where. These data are used in 95% of all investigations into serious and organised crime, and they have played a role in every major counter-terrorism operation by the security services in the last decade, but errorists, paedophiles and criminal gangs today increasingly communicate with each other over the internet using the latest electronic technology. Our proposals are simply about ensuring that we can keep up with criminals as they shift to e-mails, instant messages and the internet, rather than making phone calls. We cannot leave the British public exposed to dangers which could be eliminated were communications data obtained. As the Gracious Speech yesterday indicated, we will be bringing forward proposals to address this most important issue.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD):
The Home Secretary is well aware of my position, and I thank her for giving way. Will she confirm that, as was said in the Gracious Speech, these proposals will relate only to the aspects involving internet protocol address matching, on which she and I agree, and will be coupled with the safeguards requested by the Joint Committee?
I was about to say that the hon. Gentleman was a little slow in jumping up; I thought he might have done so when I first mentioned communications data. He was a member of that scrutiny Committee, so he will be aware that it said there was a case for legislation in this area. We accepted a number of the Joint Committee's recommendations on the proposed Communications Data Bill. As I have just explained, because this is an important area for catching criminals and for dealing with terrorists and paedophiles, it is right that the Government are looking to address the issue. The wording of the Queen's Speech yesterday made it clear that the Government intend to address the issue and, as I say, proposals will be brought forward.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I am being very generous to the hon. Lady.
The Home Secretary is indeed being most generous this morning. When she is considering what to do about IP addresses, will she also look into having better, tighter systems for age verification? We hear a lot about how a better age-verification system would deal with many of the problems that we are facing on the net.
The hon. Lady's point does not technically come under the remit of the communications data issue and deals with access to the internet more widely. If I have understood the point she is making, there is an issue to address. Some hon. Members have been taking this point up; my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Claire Perry), for example, has been doing a lot of work in this area and examining any possible changes.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP):
I am a little confused about what is being proposed for data now. Will it deal solely and exclusively with IP addresses or is the plan to bring in, either in this Session or the next one, what we all described as a snooper's charter?
The hon. Gentleman refers to the proposed measure as a snooper's charter, as others ave done, but it was not about snooping and it was not a charter. It is about ensuring--this will continue in the proposal we bring forward--that we are able to deal with the situation that is emerging, where it is becoming harder to identify these communications because people are using new methods of communication that are not covered by existing legislation.
Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab):
The Home Secretary talked about the data communications Bill--that is, the missing data communications Bill. Here is what she said about that Bill less than six months ago:
"This law is needed and it is needed now. And I am determined to see it through."
She also said:
"But Sun readers should know that I will not allow these vitally important laws to be delayed any longer in this Parliament."
Instead, all that that the Queen's Speech briefing says is that the Government are working with companies and
"It may involve legislation"--
"may"--it "may"; that is clearly the problem.
The shadow Home Secretary has carefully avoided saying what the Labour party policy is on the data communications Bill. Two days ago, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), the former Labour Home Secretary, said that if Labour had won the last election it would have introduced such a measure. Is that her position? Can she enlighten us?
The hon. Gentleman should contain himself to squabbling within his coalition and struggling to get some answers. We have always said that action will be needed to ensure that the police can keep up with changing technology. However, the draft data communications Bill drawn up by the Home Secretary was far too wide; it gave the Home Secretary far too many powers and there were far too few safeguards for privacy. It was absolutely right that something had to be done, but that Bill was not the right approach. We must wait to see what approach the Home Secretary will now take, because Government Members are squabbling so much among themselves that the result is a shambolic approach to a serious issue. Time and again, that is what we see: there is strong rhetoric from the Home Secretary, and then the reality simply does not stack up.
So no actual detailed ideas about Communications Data from the Labour party either.