Thank you for your email regarding the Data Retention and Investigation Powers Bill.
The bill ensures that critical capabilities to fight crime and protect the public are maintained; it clarifies existing law without extending current powers. Interception and access to communications data are critical to the ability of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to fight crime and protect the public. Furthermore, the bill makes clear that anyone providing a communications service to customers in the UK, regardless of where that service is provided from, should comply with lawful requests made under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000. It also replaces the current Regulations under which domestic companies can be required to retain certain types of communications data for up to 12 months, so this may later be acquired by law enforcement and used in evidence. In addition, the bill will introduce further safeguards for the use of investigatory powers, building on our already stringent regime, to respond to criticisms raised by the European Court of Justice. If we fail to act immediately, there would be a critical gap in our investigative capabilities.
As a Liberal Democrat I believe that successive governments have neglected civil liberties as they claimed to pursue greater security. There is a real risk that we will suddenly be deprived of the legitimate means by which we keep people safe. Liberty and security must go hand in hand; we cannot enjoy our freedom if we are unable to keep ourselves safe. I therefore believe there is an urgent challenge facing us. As the Prime Minister has set out, we face the very stark prospect that powers we have taken for granted in the past, will no longer be available to us in the coming weeks.
Communications data and lawful intercept are now amongst the most useful tools available to us to prevent violence and bloodshed on Britain’s streets. Vital to the work of the police and the agencies is lawful intercept, which allows them to look, under warrant, at specific communications between individuals, who may be planning plots, and without retained communications data, we wouldn’t, for example, be able to piece together the web of relationships between members of the organised crime gangs responsible for trafficking drugs and vulnerable children and adults into our country.
It must be crucially noted that this bill has nothing to do with the so-called ‘Snooper’s Charter’. That was a Home Office proposal to store every website you’ve ever visited for a whole year. I blocked that last year and I’ve blocked every further attempt to bring it back. Moreover, this bill is about maintaining existing capabilities, not creating new powers. The legislation will restore the data retention powers we had before, but amend the law to do it in a more proportionate way, and it will help companies which currently provide assistance with UK intercept warrants to continue to do so.
Most importantly, I have only agreed to this emergency legislation because we can use it to kick-start a proper debate about freedom and security in the internet age. In the post-Snowdon age, people are, rightly demanding to know more about what the state does on our behalf. There are fundamental questions to be asked about the scope of existing powers; about whether the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act has kept pace with technology; about how nation states grapple with a global internet; and about how we continue to protect security, privacy and liberties while safeguarding our security. We cannot answer these big questions on the hoof, and that is why I’ve insisted that the legislation only extends the existing powers for a temporary period. We’ve inserted a termination clause in the bill that means the legislation falls at the end of 2016, so the next government is forced to look again at these big issues.
Moreover, we will introduce new checks and balances to protect privacy and civil liberties for the future. We will establish, for the first time, a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board on the American model to ensure that Civil Liberties are properly considered in the formulation of government policy on counter-terrorism. We will radically cut the number of public bodies who have the right to approach phone and internet companies for your data. I don’t believe, for example, that local councils should unilaterally be able to access your communications data. From now on, councils will need to justify their requests first to a central body, and then a magistrate, and will not be able to approach phone and internet companies directly.
We will take practical steps to improve the accountability and transparency of our laws, by publishing regular transparency reports, listing new details about exactly how many warrants are issued, by whom, and for what purposes. The public will know more about how and why surveillance powers are administered on their behalf than ever before.
We have been working on this bill on a cross-party basis to achieve a balanced package which restores necessary powers while at the same time taking big new steps to defend our civil liberties.
I hope that this helps to answer your concerns. Please do not hesitate to get in touch again on this matter.
Nick Clegg MP