Police Chief Backs ‘Snooper’s Charter’ As Government Inquiry Begins

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Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Communications Data Bill has begun as Chief Constable of the British Transport Police gives the proposals his backing

The head of the British Transport Police has backed the Communications Data Bill, as a joint committee of MPs and peers begins an inquiry into the controversial draft legislation, which would give the police and intelligence services access to details of people’s Internet and social media usage.

Andrew Trotter OBE, Chief Constable of the British Transport Police, told TechWeekEurope that the bill, if it were to become an Act, would extend police powers in important ways, without unduly harming privacy.

The Joint Select Committee, formed specifically to examine the purported security benefits of the bill and its impact on privacy, will be chaired by Conservative Peer Lord Blencathra. It wants input from the public and concerned bodies and has issued a Call for Evidence  which asks for submissions by 23 August.

Need to know?

The police needs access to this data to keep one step ahead of criminals, said Trotter. “We know criminals are pretty bright, a lot of them, and they’re using every opportunity to get ahead of us… We need to know who is talking to who primarily.”

The draft bill has been met with stern opposition, with many claiming the proposals amount to a massive intrusion on people’s privacy, but Trotter argued that there are sufficient safeguards.

“Obviously it has got to be subject to the appropriate checks and balances. It is hard to convince people in the outside world that the existing controls over what we do are pretty powerful,” Trotter told TechWeekEurope at the National Security Summit in London this week.

“We are not cavalier with these things, we are personally vulnerable if this goes wrong. I am the data controller for my force,”  said Trotter. “Yes I want us to be audacious in the way we do things because we are dealing with audacious people, but we’ve got to be lawfully audacious.

“I have respect for civil liberties… I certainly don’t want excessive intrusion.”

The Home Office has said a number of safeguards have been added to protect citizens’ civil liberties, but the bill’s opponents said they do not go far enough.

As well as privacy concerns, there are also a number of technical issues that need clearing up, such as the proposal that ISPs should maintain “black boxes” that log all interactions. The draft bill does not say whether communications data would be collected from modern communication tools such as Skype either, nor does it specify how comms data will be split from content.

There are also concerns over the cost of the bill. The Home Office said almost £2 billion would be needed, but again no specifics were given on how such a figure was calculated, nor how the money would be raised from service providers and their customers.

Committee picks up the Bill

These issues and others will be considered by the Joint Select Committee, which will scrutinise the draft Bill before it is put in front of Parliament.

“You only need to have caught sight of the newspapers recently to realise that this is a controversial Bill which will affect each and every one of us in some way. We all email, use websites and mobile phones and this Committee wants to ensure that the draft Bill will ensure a sufficient balance between an individuals’ privacy and national security,” said committee chairman Lord Blencathra, otherwise known as David Maclean, a right-leaning Conservative party member.

“We intend very thoroughly to examine the Government’s proposals and hope to hear from interested bodies and organisations about exactly how the changes in technology and the way we use it should be reflected in legislation about access to communication data.”

Another Conservative MP, David Davis, recently questioned why such a right-leaning politician had been chosen to lead the committee, which consists of six MPs and six peers.

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