Tomorrow two parliamentary inquiries are published into Theresa May’s internet snooping plans and are expected to be grim reading for the Home Office. One of the main criticisms set to be levelled by both the Joint Committee on the Draft Communications Data Bill and the Joint Intelligence Committee, is that the evidence provided by the Home Office has been “fanciful” and “misleading.” Too add insult to injury, Guido can this afternoon reveal leaked CCHQ documents that show how before the election the Tories were not quite as enthusiastic about the plans, refusing to legislate before an evidence-based review of current powers and data was undertaken and calling Labour’s argument that it was all about “maintaining capabilities” ostentatious:
Conservative Campaign Guide, 2010.
Collection of Personal Details.
In April 2009 the Government announced that it had dropped proposals for a central database to collect details of email, phone and internet communications. However it published a consultation on plans to collect details about all our personal communications ostensibly on the grounds of maintaining existing police and security service capabilities to counter serious crime and terrorism.
Threat to privacy.
Instead of a central database, the Home Office now proposes requiring each service provider to collect and store information on calls, texts, emails and website visits so that the security service and other public authorities can access it when needed. The information will include who is contacting whom, when and where and which websites are visited, but not the content of the conversations or messages (Home Office, Protecting the public in a changing communications environment, 27 April 2009). The Information Commissioner responded by saying that ‘this proposal represents a step change in the relationship between the citizen and the state’. He also criticised the Government for not providing sufficient detail of its proposals (Information Commissioner’s response to Protecting the Public in a Changing Communication Environment – A consultation by the Home Office, 15 July 2009)
Communications Data Retention Reviewed.
A Conservative government would conduct an evidence-based review of the retention of communications data. It would look at how useful existing powers are to law enforcement and intelligence authorities before suggesting that even more communications data should be collected. If there is a capability gap a Conservative government would investigate how much data should be collected and for how long, and look at the rules that should govern its exploitation.
No such review took place, and exactly the same argument of “maintaining capability” has been used by the Home Office for this Bill. Sir Humphrey the spook is alive and well…