Intrusive, expensive, ineffective and not needed: this Government Bill cannot proceed

The man who led Lib Dem opposition to the snooping proposals on the technical challenges that remain, and how the Home Office has got it wrong

Share
Related Topics

Today sees the publication of a unanimous report on the Draft Communications Data Bill, dubbed the ‘snoopers charter’. After Nick Clegg insisted that this Bill should be published only as a draft, rather than rammed through Parliament, a panel of MPs and Peers from the main Parties have conducted the largest ever piece of pre-legislative scrutiny.

We have gone through the Home Office proposals – and the results are damning. The Bill as it is simply cannot proceed.

The Police and a huge range of other bodies already have access to information for 12 months about every call you make, every text message you send and the websites you visit. It’s the ‘Who, what and where’ of your call, not what you actually said.

Too far

They use this power a lot – each year sees around 500,000 requests for this data, for every thing from serious crimes to minor investigations. There are some benefits from the existing approach – communications data is undoubtedly useful. Knowing who a terrorist sent Facebook messages to can be vital.

But the Home Office proposals go way beyond the current rules with virtually no safeguards, asking for powers for the Home Secretary to insist on any information about any communications being kept, via secret notices.

Our committee has looked into this, and concludes ‘the draft Bill pays insufficient attention to the duty to respect the right to privacy, and goes much further than it need or should’.

It was shocking to me just how little effort the Home Office made to work through their proposals with the mobile phone companies and the Facebooks and the Googles. They didn’t bother to consult properly, assuming that discussions they’d had in 2009 on similar proposals by the Labour government would suffice. And they failed to talk through the details with the Commissioners here in the UK who would have to supervise the system.

Too expensive

These proposals are incredibly expensive too. The Home Office estimate is that they would cost a huge £1.8 billion, and the Committee had little faith that the cost would stay there, given the experience of other IT projects. It beggars belief that this amount of money was being committed with so little evidence at a time like this.

And while the Home Office claimed there would be large financial benefits, they were entirely incapable of providing evidence that this would be the case. As the report says ‘the estimated net benefit figure is fanciful and misleading’ and ‘none of our witnesses could provide specific evidence of significant numbers of lives saved to date’.

The Committee also heard of how broadly the powers would be used. While the Home Secretary claimed in the Sun that ‘Only suspected terrorists, paedophiles or serious criminals will be investigated’, the truth is as that it could also be used for speeding offences, fly-tipping and things as vague as being in ‘the interests of the economic well-being of the United Kingdom’. We are all suspects under this bill.

There are also massive technical challenges. Storing vast amounts of very personal data poses a huge risk – would you want someone to know that you went to www.depressionalliance.com, an abortion provider’s website or marriage counselling? And with ever-more use of encryption, it is not clear that there will be much useful data out there to collect, despite the great expense. The serious criminals the Home Secretary is looking to catch could easily get around the proposals.

Too disproportionate

So what now? After this report, there is absolutely no way that this Bill - with its incredibly wide powers and few safeguards - can possibly proceed. The Home Office has completely failed to show that it is needed, proportionate, possible or affordable. They must start from scratch.

Are there specific pieces of information that they actually do need for genuine law enforcement? Can they collect this in a way that doesn’t involve snooping in a hugely disproportionate way? Can they do this affordably? And can they actually provide evidence that it’s all worth doing – not just extreme rhetoric? They must actually talk to experts and civil liberty groups. And they have to show us the evidence.

This Bill has been put to the test, and failed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron visiting a primary school last year  

The only choice in schools is between the one you want and the ones you don’t

Jane Merrick
Zoë Ball says having her two children was the best thing ever to happen to her  

Start a family – you’ll never have to go out again

John Mullin
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn