Home Secretary Theresa May has once again stated a desire to equip the state with greater surveillance powers – including the ability to access citizens’ email and social media accounts – arguing that claims the government wants to unlawfully spy on citizens are “nonsense”.
The proposed communications data bill would require internet firms to store records of all email and social media communications for up to a year in order to allow the authorities to access them in the interests of national security if required.
Giving a speech at the Lord Mayor’s Defence and Security Lecture, the Home Secretary argued the bill – dubbed the “snooper’s charter” by privacy campaigners – is needed in order for the UK to protect itself in an internet-enabled world, claiming that the authorities have had to drop cases because they haven’t been able to access the information they require.
“Over a six-month period the National Crime Agency alone estimates that it has had to drop at least 20 cases as a result of missing communications data,” May said at the event in the City of London.
“Thirteen of these were threat-to-life cases in which a child was assessed to be at risk of imminent harm.
“The truth about the way the privacy and security debate has been presented is that it creates myths that hide serious and pressing difficulties,” she continued, arguing that the government doesn’t have the powers it requires in order to properly keep citizens safe.
“The real problem is not that we have built an over-mighty state but that the state is finding it harder to fulfil its most basic duty, which is to protect the public.”
May argued that while technology has brought benefits to the world, it’s also provided a new opportunity for criminals to get the upper hand.
“We are living more of our lives online, using an array of new technology. This is hugely liberating and a great opportunity for economic growth, but this technology has become essential not just to the likes of you and me but to organised criminals and terrorists,” she said.
“Far from having some fictitious mastery over all this technology we, in democratic states, face the significant risk of being caught out by it.”
The Home Secretary referred to pushing through the data communications bill as “a question of life and death” and vowed to “keep on making the case until we get the changes we need,” claiming that the current state of the internet makes it a breeding ground for criminals.
“I know some people like the thought that the internet should become a libertarian paradise, but that will entail complete freedom not just for law-abiding people but for terrorists and criminals. I do not believe that is what the public wants,” said May.
Reacting to May’s speech, Emma Carr, acting director of privacy campaigner group Big Brother Watch, said the Home Secretary was out of touch with the majority on the issue of government surveillance.
“Yet again the Home Secretary is clashing with the broad political consensus that no new powers should be introduced until a full independent review into the currently available surveillance legislation and oversight mechanisms has taken place,” she said in a statement.”We know from surveillance transparency reports published by private companies that they largely comply with law enforcement requests for communications data.
“Therefore, if the Home Secretary is stating that communications data was unavailable in specific cases, then that would suggest that a warrant was either not submitted to, or was rejected by, the companies in question. The question therefore should be why is this the case?” Carr added.
The proposed communications data bill was dropped following opposition to it by the Conservative’s Liberal Democrat coalition partners, but the Home Secretary still seems as keen as ever to push the legislation through before the next general election.