Skip to main content

Communications Data

Volume 764: debated on Tuesday 15 September 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to consult and otherwise engage with stakeholders about the interception of communications data.

My Lords, the Government will bring forward legislative proposals in the autumn relating to investigatory powers. Those proposals will be subject to full consultation and scrutiny, including by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. Considerable evidence on these issues has already been heard by David Anderson QC, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, the Royal United Services Institute and the committee that scrutinised the draft communications data Bill.

I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. David Anderson also stressed that it was very important that whistleblowers who want to blow the whistle on government or corporate misconduct should feel protected, particularly if they give that information to journalists. Have the Government given any thought to how they will offer assurances to journalists and whistleblowers that they will be protected?

My Lords, the Government take these issues seriously. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Security Minister met representatives of the National Union of Journalists in July. Also, a strengthened Acquisitions and Disclosure of Communications Data code of practice was approved by Parliament earlier this year. Of course, all these issues can be addressed further when the consultation takes place after the draft Bill is published and during the evidence to the Joint Committee of both Houses.

My Lords, on 2 July I was invited to attend the Internet Service Providers’ Association annual awards ceremony to present its “internet villain” award. While a number of people were nominated, the industry gave the award to the Home Secretary,

“for forging ahead with communications data legislation … without adequate consultation with industry and civil society”.

Does the Minister agree that that was an indictment of the Government’s failure to engage by those who know more about this subject than most of us?

My Lords, I find it slightly difficult to agree because there have now been four reports, all of which took evidence. The Home Secretary is meeting communication services providers this week, both foreign and domestic. As I just said, there will be a Joint Committee of both Houses where these matters can be addressed, so it is not true that we have not consulted.

My Lords, on these issues, will the Minister bear in mind that the proper authorities for matters of national security are the Government of the country, who are elected—and removable—by the people of the country, not internet service providers who are in this for profit?

I completely agree with the noble Lord. Nobody is suggesting that communication services providers should have executive powers. All I said in answer to the previous question was that we consulted. The Home Secretary is perfectly aware that she is accountable. I assure the House that she takes that responsibility very seriously, as did previous Home Secretaries.

My Lords, in light of the recent revelation that ISIS hackers were potentially able to intercept key public sector emails, how often is the public network architecture reviewed to avoid these cybersecurity threats?

What do the Government find so difficult about supporting the recommendation by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation that warrants for interception should be judicially authorised, but where the warrant is required in the interests of a national security purpose that relates to the defence of the UK or foreign policy, the Secretary of State should have the power to so certify—with the judicial consideration being able to depart from that certificate only on the basis of the principles applicable in judicial review? That is a test for which there are already parallels in national security legislation.

My Lords, however skilfully he does it, the noble Lord will not get me to say what is in the draft Bill. It would be wrong of me to do it as a government Whip in the House of Lords and, secondly, I do not actually know.

Given the importance that those of us on these Benches put on the security of our nation, will the Minister make sure that in the consultation that takes place the distinction between communications data and the interception of the content of communications is made absolutely clear? Could he also make it absolutely clear that people understand the consequences of a degrading of the ability of the police and other agencies to have access to communications data in a timely and effective fashion?

The noble Lord is absolutely right. I think the Anderson report recommended that we should look at the definitions of different classifications of data and therefore the different levels of intrusiveness that are involved and the different permissions that are needed. It is critical. The definitions of different sorts of data, what should be done and who should be able to authorise interception are some of the key questions that will be looked at in the consultation once the draft Bill has been published.