By Tim Montgomerie
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The one policy area that appeared to most unite the Liberal Democrats and modernised Conservative Party was the issue of civil liberties. The weekend's news that the Government plans to announce new legislation in the Queen's Speech that will require internet and phone companies to record who their customers have emailed, texted and called (etc) has raised big doubts as to whether that unity can be maintained.
David Davis led the charge against the new law at the weekend. Conservative MP Dominic Raab tells today's Sun newspaper that the law could mean "mass surveillance on an unprecedented scale". "Far from making us safer," he warned, "these plans for Big Brother surveillance would expose us to massive fraud." Jacob Rees-Mogg warned that the powers that the Coalition creates "may in future be used by less benevolent administrations.”
Liberal Democrat MPs are equally anxious. Clegg's party president Tim Farron tweeted: "We didn’t scrap ID cards to back creeping surveillance by other means". On LibDemVoice Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, wrote:
"The Home Office wants to have access to information about not just who we text but who we tweet, who we skype to as well as who we ring. Now, this may seem to be no more objectionable than the current position but, technically, it is a complete mess. Your Internet Service Provider doesn’t have a clue who you facebook, and doesn’t want to either. No expert I’ve ever spoken to can see how this could possibly be done without great expense and without allowing access to the actual message that was sent – which is not legal without a warrant from the Home Secretary."
The newspapers are in full cry this morning with The Times saying (£) the proposals are neither desirable nor plausible. Fleet Street offers wildly different assessments of the cost of the law. The Mail suggests £2 billion. The Telegraph suggests a tenth of that amount – £200 million.
"Right now, the police and security agencies use information from phone records to solve crime and keep us safe. Looking at who a suspect talks to can lead the police to other criminals. Whole paedophile rings, criminal conspiracies and terrorist plots can then be smashed. Data like this has already helped lock away murderer Ian Huntley. It helped catch the gangland thugs who gunned down Rhys Jones. Last year, police smashed a major international child pornography website based in Lincolnshire. They then used internet data analysis to find other suspected paedophiles. Such data has been used in every security service terrorism investigation and 95 per cent of serious organised crime investigations over the last ten years."
Read Mrs May's full piece. On Radio 4 yesterday James Brokenshire, Home Office Minister, promised full safeguards and insisted that there would be no return to the previous government's attempt to create a "big Big Brother database".