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Communications Data Bill

Volume 551: debated on Monday 15 October 2012

10. Whether she has received legal advice on whether the proposals contained in the draft Communications Data Bill are compatible with the UK’s human rights obligations. (122210)

The draft Communications Data Bill, which is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny, is designed specifically to ensure that communications data are obtained in compliance with article 8 of the European convention on human rights. The ECHR memorandum that accompanies the Bill was approved by Ministers prior to its publication. This legislation will help to ensure that the internet does not become a safe haven for criminals and that the police and others can continue to protect the public.

The Secretary of State will be aware that there is real public concern that this legislation will enable the authorities to view a person’s entire web history. Will she outline what safeguards are being considered to ensure that the right to privacy is respected?

That is not the case. I recognise that a number of concerns have been raised, often on the basis of a lack of information about what is actually going to happen under the Communications Data Bill. We want to take what is currently available to the police and other law enforcement agencies in terms of telephony—that is, who made a call, when and at what time—and put that into the new environment where criminals, paedophiles and terrorists are using the internet, in a variety of forms, to communicate. This is an important Bill because it means that we can continue to catch criminals and protect the public.

It is

“difficult to estimate costs with precision over the long term”

as regards this proposal. Those are not my words but those of the Home Office in responding to a freedom of information request about the stated £1.8 billion price tag for the legislation. What assurances can the Home Secretary provide that the Government are not writing a blank cheque to service providers? Will she say today whether they have a cap in mind for the costs of this Bill—yes or no?

We have been absolutely clear about the 10-year cost in terms of the £1.8 billion figure. Yes, cost recovery will be available to the service providers, but that will be done on the basis set out during discussions about the usage made of this provision. The average annual investment that will take place over 10 years equates to about 1.3% of the annual cost of policing. Let me say to right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches that this Bill is important because without it we will see criminals and others potentially going free because of their use of internet communications. It is right that we have the Bill because it will help us to catch criminals, terrorists and others.