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By Peter Hoskin
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DRWe
already knew that the Government is redrafting the Communications Data Bill
after opposition to the current plans from Tory MPs and many
others
. But now, this morning, we have a clearer sense of the depth of feeling
on the Tory backbenches. Dominic Raab has written a letter to Theresa May,
signed by 40 of his party colleagues, to highlight his and their concerns about
the policy as it stands.

I
have reproduced the entire text of the letter at the bottom of this post,
although here are its four main points of order:

  1. “We urge you to limit the application of the Bill to terrorist
    offences and the most serious crimes, limit access to such data to the intelligence
    agencies, SOCA and the police, and make the regime subject to judicial warrant
    as a safeguard against abuse.”
  2. “From a law enforcement perspective, there has been no explanation
    as to how those using foreign internet and communications service providers
    will be prevented from circumventing the regime.”
  3. “Equally, given the public sector's woeful track record of
    protecting personal data, we are concerned about the vulnerability of the
    scheme to both the negligence of officials and attempts to infiltrate the
    system by those with criminal intent. We would urge you to consult in further
    detail with the Information Commissioner, internet providers, telephone
    companies and other external experts, to test the technical integrity of the
    proposals.”
  4. “Finally, the Home Office estimates the proposals would cost £2
    billion. The Committee stated that these estimates ‘are not robust’. We urge
    Ministers to subject the proposals to external audit and re-consider their law
    enforcement cost-benefit in light of the suggestions made, above, to limit
    their breadth and tighten their focus.”

The
stand-out line, though, comes at the very end: “In the absence of reassurance
on these points, we would find it difficult to support the proposals.” So who
are “we”? The full list of signatories is not being made public, although Mr
Raab is saying that around half of them are from the 2010 intake. Strikingly,
the 40 Tory MPs outnumber the entire cohort of 38 Lib Dem backbenchers, who
might also be expected to rebel on this matter.  

“Dear
Home Secretary,

The
Joint Parliamentary Committee considering the Draft Communications Bill
reported last week, highlighting a range of serious issues with the current
proposals. We share many of them.

We
support your efforts to strengthen law enforcement, but believe it is crucial
to ensure such measures focus on the fight against terrorism and the most
serious crime. The current proposals would expand the wide net of existing
surveillance powers to cover every telephone call, email, web access and text
message from every law-abiding citizen, to be processed by what the Committee
described as a ‘federated database’. There has been no proper explanation of how
clauses 14 to 16, concerning ‘filtering arrangements’, will work in practice.
It is clear that they would authorise datamining, deep packet inspection and
other techniques designed to infer potentially suspicious activity from the
patterns of mass data held on every innocent citizen in this country.

The
Information Commissioner has warned that these plans would herald ‘a step
change in the relationship between the citizen and the state’. We urge you to
limit the application of the Bill to terrorist offences and the most serious crimes,
limit access to such data to the intelligence agencies, SOCA and the police,
and make the regime subject to judicial warrant as a safeguard against abuse.

From
a law enforcement perspective, there has been no explanation as to how those
using foreign internet and communications service providers will be prevented
from circumventing the regime. Equally, given the public sector's woeful track
record of protecting personal data, we are concerned about the vulnerability of
the scheme to both the negligence of officials and attempts to infiltrate the
system by those with criminal intent. We would urge you to consult in further
detail with the Information Commissioner, internet providers, telephone
companies and other external experts, to test the technical integrity of the
proposals.

Finally,
the Home Office estimates the proposals would cost £2 billion. The Committee
stated that these estimates ‘are not robust’. We urge Ministers to subject the
proposals to external audit and re-consider their law enforcement cost-benefit
in light of the suggestions made, above, to limit their breadth and tighten
their focus.

In
the absence of reassurance on these points, we would find it difficult to
support the proposals.

Yours
sincerely,

Dominic
Raab”

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