David Cameron defended proposed new internet surveillance legislation, insisting there were “significant gaps” in national security and reassuring the public the plan would “properly respect civil liberties” in the face of criticism over privacy issues.
Cameron stressed the paramount importance of “keeping the country safe,” and explained there were significant gaps in the defences because of the “moving-on of technology”.
He insisted the new law would help police and security officers conduct thorough investigations on terrorism.
“This sort of data, used at the moment, through the proper processes, is absolutely vital in stopping serious crime and some of the most serious terrorist incidents that could kill people in our country, so it’s essential we get this right,” Cameron said.
New legislation may extend powers to the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to assess information on demand, such as emails, Skype phone calls and Facebook messages. Communication and internet service providers will be required to retain details of every visit for at least a year.
But the coalition government clarified that only data containing times, dates, numbers and addresses would be accessible, while content of the messages would not be accessed.
The draft clauses on the new surveillance parliamentary bill are expected to be announced in the queen’s speech on 9th May.
Home Secretary Theresa May said new legislation would help bring criminals including paedophiles and terrorists to justice. Similar data had indeed already helped convict the Soham murderer Ian Huntley and the killers of the Liverpool schoolboy Rhys Jones.
Theresa May vowed that “ordinary people’s emails or Facebook posts” would not be targeted, but only suspected terrorists, paedophiles or serious criminals would be investigated.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg emphasised this was not a proposal about the government invading privacy: “All we are doing is updating the rules which currently apply to mobile telephone calls, to allow police and security services to go after terrorists and serious criminals.”
Clegg had been advised by security services that the existing Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act barred them from monitoring the date and time of instant messages and Skype calls communicating between the suspects.
He also pledged to ensure the coalition government did not repeat the mistakes of the last government. The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee will scrutinise draft clauses of the new bill and public parliamentary hearings will be held.