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Coffee House

Theresa May makes a weak argument on the Communications Data Bill

4 December 2012

7:54 PM

4 December 2012

7:54 PM

Despite a committee of both Houses of Parliament having yet to report after several months of inquiry, the Home Secretary took to the pages of the Sun yesterday to blast anyone who disagrees with her draft Communications Data Bill as a criminal, a terrorist or a paedophile. Hours later David Davis spoke in Parliament to ask why Theresa May had seen fit to traduce a large number of MPs.

Aside from the Home Office panic the article revealed, the Blair-esque rhetoric of division was surpassed by the poor examples used by the minister in her interview.

She cited two cases. One did not concern terrorism, paedophilia or a serious crime. Neither case requires the logging of every email, social media message and website visit we all make, every day.

Case one: A paedophile website, where not every user was jailed because certain data was not available.

[Alt-Text]


Alternative solution: A website is distributing illegal child pornography.  Use existing RIPA powers to ask service providers to record every person visiting it, producing as much data as the police require.

Case two: Urgently identifying the address of a teen feared to be committing suicide

Alternative solution: Under existing arrangements, internet service providers do hold the addresses of their customers – they need it for billing purposes. The ISP can be asked to trace the communication live and action can be taken.

This evidential problem is not new. The evidence on how Communications Data is used by police forces currently is a two-week survey conducted after the draft Bill was published.

The debate about these powers has been presented as if there is only one choice – a wild west, or the Home Office’s way. This is plainly wrong, and perhaps why YouGov found only 6 per cent of the public felt the Home Office had made a clear and compelling case for the powers.

Parliamentarians of all sides rejected ID Cards and 90-day detention, in the face of equally shrill rhetoric. The British people do not sacrifice their liberties lightly, whether Lib Dem MP or Sun reader.  To suggest those who are not willing to sacrifice their liberties are somehow defenders of paedophiles or terrorists is a cheap line, but the political price for those pursuing it could prove to be much greater.

Nick Pickles is director of Big Brother Watch.

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