Senior police officers have warned of a "gap in the armoury" if plans for greater internet surveillance are dropped following an outcry over a proposal to monitor the online activity of everyone in Britain.
The contentious measures to allow police and intelligence services to obtain messages sent via Skype and social networks were to keep ahead of criminal networks that increasingly use computer communication, said Gary Beautridge, head of the Serious Crime Directorate for Kent and Sussex Police. "If officers cannot seek information from internet service providers, I think there will be a gap in the armoury of law enforcement agencies."
Labour called for legislation allowing "secret justice" and greater internet surveillance to be dropped from next month's Queen's Speech. Writing in The Independent today, Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "Independent checks are needed. Government oversight plans are still too half-hearted to deliver the checks and balances we need."
However, the head of the Serious Organised Crime Agency warned that the most sophisticated criminals could sometimes be caught only by tracking their communications.
"Striking the balance between protecting privacy and protecting the public... is something the Government has to address. But by the time we realise that we have lost the opportunity to maintain capability, damage will have been done to people's lives," said Soca's Director General, Trevor Pearce, in a letter to The Times.