Communications data and interception helps keep people safe from terrorists and other serious, dangerous criminals. Communications data is used in 95 per cent of all serious and organised crime prosecutions, and every major counter-terrorism investigation over the last decade.
But we faced losing these powers that are used to counter the threats we face from terrorists and organised criminals. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) struck down regulations that let internet and phone companies retain communications data for law enforcement purposes for up to 12 months. As well as this, some companies were calling for a clearer legal framework to underpin their cooperation with law enforcement and intelligence agencies to intercept what terrorists and serious criminals are saying to each other. This is the ability to access content with a warrant signed by a Secretary of State
The emergency Act enable agencies to maintain existing capabilities. It responds to the ECJ judgment on data retention and bring clarity to existing law in response to the concerns of some companies. It is a narrow and limited response to the set of specific challenges we face. It solves the immediate problems at hand. Importantly, the Act includes a termination clause so it will fall at the end of 2016 – forcing the government to look again at these powers.
As part of the Act, the Government has placed a review of the interception and communications data powers and capabilities, and the way they are regulated, on a statutory footing. This review will focus on the safeguards required to protect privacy and include a review of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act to make recommendations to reform and update it. There will also be reports from the Interception of Communications Commissioner every six months to ensure that it is clear that this Act does as the Government intends; it introduces no new powers, but ensures existing capabilities are maintained.
Alongside the Act, the Government is also establishing a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to ensure civil liberties are properly considered when the Government sets counter-terrorism policy. The Government is also restricting the number of public bodies that can ask for communications data and publishing annual transparency reports. This will make more information publicly available than ever before.
I believe that the action this Government is taking will ensure we maintain powers to help keep us safe from those who would harm UK citizens.