The Tories aren’t giving up just yet on the Communications Data Bill, and Keir Starmer’s intervention, reported in the Sun this morning, will help their cause. The Director of Public Prosecutions’ letter was written before Nick Clegg announced he was blocking the legislation, and argues that ‘communications data is so important that any reduction in capability would create a real risk to future prosecutions’.
The problem for the Home Office is that it needs to make the case for this legislation not just in the face of cynicism that it is really needed, which has only increased following the revelations about the NSA’s Prism programme. Ministers also need to convince those opposed to a Snooper’s Charter that it won’t just be used by other organisations like HMRC and local authorities for purposes far less grand than those outlined in Starmer’s letter.
In April, Tory MP Nick de Bois revealed on Coffee House that he had been approached by his local council about the Communications Data Bill. He wrote:
‘I have even received representations from my own Local Authority, Enfield Council – calling on me to support the Cabinet Member for Environment’s wish to be granted access to communications data once the redrafted Bill comes back to Parliament.
‘Given the numerous examples of local authorities using already existing surveillance powers in manners for which they were never intended – such as to catch those living outside school catchment areas or monitoring the illegal movement of pigs – why on earth would they also need access to their residents communications data?
‘While we must be fully prepared for those who reject these concerns via the old mantra ‘if you have nothing to hide’ – it should be questioned why such personal data, in such large quantities would ever be needed unless specific elements were acquired via a judicial warrant for the investigation of the most serious crimes.’
Even if MPs are happy to trust spies to use their comms data as they need, they will need assurances that more legislation isn’t just an opportunity for local and central government to indulge in far more petty operations. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems continue to oppose any attempts to bring another Snooper’s Charter before parliament.