Skip to main content

Communications Data (Use in Prosecutions)

Volume 602: debated on Thursday 26 November 2015

4. What assessment he has made of the importance of communications data in securing prosecutions. (902345)

Communications data are an essential form of evidence used in prosecutions across the full spectrum of criminal offences, including terrorism, serious and organised crime, child sexual abuse, murder and rape. It is important for that capability to be maintained and modernised, which is why the Government have published the draft Investigatory Powers Bill.

In the light of that, does the Attorney General agree that we need to continue to improve our communications data capability?

I do agree with my hon. and learned Friend. It is important to recognise that the cases in which evidence of this kind is very significant range well beyond terrorism cases. For example, some 95% of CPS investigations of serious and organised crime involve communications data.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend assure me that any agency of Government, or indeed Parliament, such as the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, should not seek to protect its most senior management from legal action and/or prosecution by claiming that communications data are no longer available after 30 days, but instead should strive to be completely transparent and, when receiving requests for such data, make them available?

Mr Speaker, I am sure you would not want me to wade into the details of that case, and I am obviously not in a position to do so anyway, but I would say that all organisations should take very seriously their responsibilities under the Data Protection Act and all other legislation.

In addition to the offences to which my right hon. and learned Friend has already alluded, could communications data not also help secure prosecutions in areas such as stalking and sexual grooming?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is a large range of offences to which this might be relevant—essentially, types of offending where whether someone communicated with another person and where they were when they did so is relevant. One can think of conspiracies of all kinds, cases involving paedophile rings or drug-smuggling operations, harassment, which he mentioned, witness intimidation or even something as diverse as insider trading. There is a huge range of offending that we need to deal with in this way.

12. The outrage on the streets of Paris and the seven foiled plots that have kept people safe in the UK show there should be no safe place online for terrorists and those who wish to do us harm. What additional measures can be taken to make sure that everyone in the UK remains safe from this threat? (902354)

Again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is not sustainable to have a situation where a terrorist atrocity plotted by telephone can be understood and intercepted but one plotted over WhatsApp cannot. The measures in the draft Investigatory Powers Bill are entirely necessary, therefore, to avoid the kinds of atrocities he describes.