Coffee House

Theresa May upsets the Lib Dems and David Davis in one fell swoop

3 December 2012

Theresa May has upset quite a few people from across the political spectrum with her comments in the Sun today about the Communications Data Bill. The Home Secretary told the newspaper:

‘The people who say they’re against this bill need to look victims of serious crime, terrorism and child sex offences in the eye and tell them why they’re not prepared to give police the powers they need to protect the public. Anybody who is against this bill is putting politics before people’s lives.’

This irritated David Davis sufficiently for the Tory backbencher to raise May’s comments as a point of order in the House of Commons this afternoon. Davis, who has made his own opposition to the Bill abundantly clear from the start, told the Speaker:

‘I raise this point of order with you in respect of your duty of defending the interests and rights of backbenchers and committees in this House. This morning in an interview with the Sun newspaper, the Home Secretary, who I see is on the Treasury Bench, said the following about the Communications Data Bill:

‘Criminals, terrorists and paedophiles will want MPs to vote against this bill. Victims of crime, police and the public will want them to vote for it. It’s a question of whose side you’re on.’ She also said: ‘Anybody who is against this bill is putting politics before people’s lives.’

‘A Joint Committee of this House and the other House is meeting at present to pass comment on this Bill. Therefore, apart from traducing a large number of Members of this House, the Home Secretary is undermining the work of that Committee. Has she asked to come to the House to explain herself, and if not, what can you do to protect us, Mr Speaker?’

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The main targets of May’s interview were clearly the Liberal Democrats, who may well pull the plug on the legislation. Their own backbench spokesman on home affairs Julian Huppert argued in a post for Coffee House in October that this is ‘a Bill that should not and will not get support in Parliament’, and Nick Cohen attacked the draft legislation in the magazine in September. Today, a Lib Dem source told me:

‘It’s no good just asserting that the case has been made for this Bill, it has to be proved. We’ll find out next week if the Committee thinks that it has been made. It’s the job of politicians to make sure we both protect the public but also protect the privacy of people’s everyday personal communications. The response has to be proportionate and necessary.’

When you’ve managed to cheese off both the Lib Dems and David Davis, you know you’ve got quite a legislative fight on your hands.

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Show comments
  • FrankS

    Would the victims of serious crime, terrorism and child sex offences look me in the eye and explain why letting the police read my emails would help bring their assailants to justice? It’s another example of moral blackmail based on the false idea that victimhood makes you an expert in law-making.

  • the viceroy’s gin

    “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome, botoxed, peroxided priest?”

  • davebush999

    What makes anyone think that the security services aren’t doing all this already?

    • eeore

      They are, this just makes it legal.

  • Bardirect

    serious crime, terrorism and child sex offences are fortunately rare. Why not focus on persistent burglars, drug dealers, car thieves, who blight our lives but whom Plod regards as NOT “serious” enough to warrant anything other than a courtesy call and pro forma letter.

  • itdoesntaddup

    I’m sure Theresa May think it is vital to be able to identify all UKIP supporters from their web and email traffic. Or was that Joyce Thacker?

  • Thick as two Plancks

    Perhaps the answer is to allow everybody to engage in such snooping rather than just limiting it to the authorities. After all, if it is good for them to do it, why is it not good for us all to do it?

  • Colonel Mustard

    The Home Office really is like the archetypal Stockholm syndrome. The peoples representative goes in to oversee their protection and emerges as an authoritarian determined to extend the powers of the state over them. If the state can justify the Post Office keeping copies of every letter sent I’ll buy her story.

    • ButcombeMan

      Mustard, you should have waited for the explanation. Copies of letters is warranted.

      What actually happens is that people go into the HO and get their eyes opened to the terrifying holes in intelligence.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Colonel or Sir to you please. I doubt I went to your school and I’m certain I’m not a member of your club.

    • eeore

      The post office also does not check the address, take the letter out of the envelope, but it in another envelope, rewrite the address and send it on it’s way.

      Btw, under the legislation the post office will be required to keep a record of all physical mail you have received.

      • eeore

        Your phone company all ready has the log of your phone calls.

        • eeore

          But don’t worry it is all to keep you safe from those terrorists… you know… the one’s the government are arming in Libya and Syria.

  • Tarka the Rotter

    The police have more than enough powers to protect the public – what we actually need are measures to protect the public from the police, and the over-mighty state. Shame on you Mrs May, and so much for your party’s commitment to roll back the surveillance state. You’ve been rumbled.

  • Duke of Earl

    We need to kill this bill. What utterly illiberal tosh from May. I thought this govt planned to do away with Labour’s semi police state.
    It is very odd though that the “Liberal” Democrats are against this but are happy to kill of our free press by state regulation just because they don’t like Murdoch. What ever happened to principle?

    • eeore

      Wait until after the meeting in Dubai, the proposals they come up with will make this look positively liberal.

      I wouldn’t be surprised that in the relatively near future, visiting a site like this will be enough to get you banned from the internet.

  • eeore

    Censorship protects victims seems to be a popular message these days.

    • Bluesman

      Agreed. Censorship creates victims but they are never discovered – thanks to censorship. No victim, no crime; at least no victim that can be found.

  • MirthaTidville

    May is yet another useless Cameroon displaying a surfeit of petulance…pissing people off is about the only thing she is good at.

  • TomTom

    The Plods simply want to have a dragnet and snoop on everybody. We have Menwith Hill and GCHQ funded by the NSA in Maryland but this stupid Act will simply flood the plods with data without giving them any filter. It has no effect on Steganography or VPN Tunnelling and other methods of circumventing snooping……it will simply divert Plod attention to broad brush surveillance and allow the sophisticated to hide in the traffic

    • dalai guevara

      Absolutely concur, whenever the child abuse argument comes out (in most cases it’s in your family) or terrorism (does that include QE terrorism?), then you know this is just a smoke screen. And you chaps worry about regulation of the press? OMG, how you have been conned…

  • WIlliam Blakes Ghost

    With a bit of luck this will finish her as Home Secretary especially as she is attempting to prove the branding she gave to the Tory party and prove herself as a good substitute for the character Kenny Everett made so famous back in the 80’s:

  • tom jones

    Nice try by May, but I’m with David Davis on this one. Sucks that we’ve gone the way of Labour and decided to brand everyone a suspect. Innocent before proven guilty is an important principle and if I wanted to live in Russia then I’d move there.

    • acorn

      Agree and here we go again. The victims are the experts – good old Hugh Grant et al. Theresa is the one who should be capable of looking her critics in the eye and answering their questions. Emotionally based babble – well said David Davis.

  • HooksLaw

    The issue is just a flag to wave for Davies, a dividing line to whip up trouble and promote himself.

    • ButcombeMan

      Its Davis, you are all completely wrong about this and he has been listening to Shami too much. I do though agree with you Hookie, about DD.

      Retention of basic electronic contact data (not content) for a reasonable period, and access to it for appropriate law enforcement & security services, is absolutely essential. It has always been essential, in order to evaluate, confirm & progress other basic intelligence. It protects the innocent and helps frustrate the guilty.

      May is correct.

      • Colonel Mustard

        How does such intelligence proceed with written communications sent by post? If a terrorist cell resorts to such communication and eschews the electronic media then does the requisite intelligence mean that all letters must be copied too – or at least a record kept by the Post Office of who sent what to whom? Sorry, but whilst I understand your argument here, it ultimately falls back on the fact that they appear to “need” to do this simply because they can.

        If it is “absolutely essential” and always has been please answer my question about letter post. Or do the intelligence officers concerned really believe that data in an email must be more critical than data in a letter, simply by way of the medium?

        • ButcombeMan

          Letters are not opened for content without an interception warrant just as telecoms are not intercepted for content, without a warrant.

          Electronic contact (not content) data is often used and has always historically been used, as part of the intelligence to justify interception warrants.

          Contact data is critical to that process. A modern problem is that the multiplicity of contact methods and varying record keeping practice, makes total capture very difficult. The intelligence hole the bill tries to fill.

          Given a basic piece of information (say X is involved with jihadists intent on bombing somewhere), electronic contact (not content) data, is absolutely KEY to evaluation of that information in order to build a richer intelligence picture and MAYBE justify a warrant.

          Try to imagine doing a jig saw puzzle with key pieces missing. Try to imagine that when the target has deliberately removed some of the pieces by using varied communication and signalling methods. Try to imagine that, when the target uses disposable mobile phones (burners) -seven in a week. Some for inwards calls, some for outward calls. Try to imagine that with TomToms steganography, maybe posting pictures to an open website with pixels altered.

          • Colonel Mustard

            Understood thanks. But the difference is that not all letters are copied but only those subject to a warrant. Here we have a proposal to store all data subject to a warrant should it be required. The copying of all letters would never be accepted by the public but we are asked to accept this simply because the medium allows it.

            • ButcombeMan

              No, storage of all electronic data CONTENT is emphatically not envisaged-or possible. it is CONTACT data. The fact that there was a contact. The content would not be kept.

              It is the fact of contact that builds the intelligence picture.

              I do find the strong views expressed by some-not you-rather mindless when they have not understood the proposal.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                Traffic analysis is a prime business intelligence function. We understand full well what is going on, and it won’t do for you to play the “You don’t understand” card.

                There is no legitimate for a data collection and storage function to be taking place. It is a needless cost, opens up avenues of security risk in itself, and takes place in defiance of fundamental civil liberties.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                And my friend, if you believe such as May are not EMPHATICALLY seeking to grab the content of emails, I have a bridge I want to sell you.

              • Colonel Mustard

                Hmm. Then it hasn’t been very well communicated and May’s pre-emptive emotional blackmail was unhelpful.

          • Duke of Earl

            Are you freaking serious? So you want the state to be able to store details of the millions of private emails sent daily by ordinary people just so they can tackle maximum 500 jihadist nut jobs?

            This is the same idiotic logic that allows a govt to penalise millions of poor drinkers just to tackle a few persistent problem ones.

            I’d rather live in fear or these few jihadists than live in a society where the govt snoops on its own citizens.

            First they came for the Islamists and we did nothing…

            • ButcombeMan

              You are responding quite mindlessly. The service providers already capture the data (obviously) it is about retention and access availability for fixed standardized periods. I used a jihadist as just one example. Leveson is full of references to contact data. All sorts of serious crime is solved by contact data.

              • Nick

                This is factually wrong – service providers retain data they need for business purposes. The bill envisages them *creating* new data never held, and also gives the power to the Home Office the ability to tell companies to collect data on services used by their customers. (Although the service providers have unanimously pointed out the Home Office seems to assume no internet traffic is encrypted)

                None of this data is currently held, because it has no use to businesses. The data is being created, collected and stored at the behest of the Home Office. I suggest you read the evidence to the committee of Vodafone, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google…indeed basically any of the technical witnesses to the Joint Committee.

          • Duke of Earl

            If they want to intercept anything they can get a warrant. Like they have been doing for hundreds of years.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            Yes, the bad guys will always out think the plods. We get that.

            But the same plods capturing our data, or their like, are responsible for keeping it secure. Meanwhile, other bad guys want to break that security and grab that data for their OWN purposes, perhaps more destructive than your hypothetical bad guys.

            You see? You’re building a Maginot Line. It’s costly. It may ultimately be destructive. It saps resources and likely erodes security in other areas. It promotes soft thinking. It takes the edge off the plods, who need to stay sharp, follow hot leads and then ASK to investigate specific bad guys.

            Little good can come from this. Much bad can.

            • ButcombeMan

              You are wrong on many fronts. The main issue is retention of captured contact data for a fixed period, by the SERVICE PROVIDER.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                …and you think the service provider is somehow securing that data?

                No, and the bad guys thank you for the trove of data to be mined, thanks to such as this foolishness.

            • dalai guevara

              ….much bigger damage than any EU-Kommissar or press ombudsman could ever do.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                …not if you and your comrades have your way.

                • dalai guevara

                  are you reminding me that May is my comrade? The confusion is perfect.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  I’m reminding you that you’re stupid. Confusion is often adjunct to that.

                • dalai guevara

                  Ah, bless…

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Ah… you’re stupid.

                • dalai guevara

                  Would you consider your actions trolling, and if not why not?

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  I’d consider you stupid, and persistently so.

                • dalai guevara

                  And you my friend are a troll – where is the ‘report’ button?

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  You may have difficulty finding it. Stupidity has that effect.

                • dalai guevara

                  Hahaha, I really am a soft touch with the likes of you…

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Well, you’re soft from the neck up, certainly.

            • ButcombeMan

              I gave a fairly detailed explanation of how contact data is used. Perhaps you should actually read it. And yes ASKING as you put it in capitals is envisaged.

              • the viceroy’s gin

                No it isn’t. You’re data mining and storing first, and asking questions later.

                And you’re also giving away the stored data, intentionally or unitentionally, to other bad guys.

                • ButcombeMan

                  Data mining first?
                  Giving information away?

                  You are making things up as you go along.

                • the viceroy’s gin

                  Yes, we get it that you’ve naive certainty that the data grabbers are benevolent, and there will be no chance that the data will be used maliciously.

                  How about we cut the whole thing short, and not bother recording and storing data, a costly and intrusive practice which can only end badly?

          • eeore

            Uh no. All the things you suggest are done, and always have been done, without a warrant. Which is why the authorities wet their knickers when they happen to stumble across a plot, that they were not running for other reasons, and why they get into such a problem when it comes to presenting their case in court.

            I suggest you stop watching Burn Notice, or at least recognize it as entertainment, and wake up to the fact that criminalising of the population is being done for entirely other reasons.

      • eeore

        No Davis has got it right.

        Treating everyone as if they are criminal does not help the innocent, it just means that the state assumes everyone is guilty.

        To claim that retaining details of a persons surfing history – and outlawing HTTPS – is not retention of content just makes you look silly.

      • Jelly Jim

        Shows how little you know about the Bill, then!

    • tom jones

      With respect, Davis resigned years ago on the issue of keeping people locked up without charge for something stupid like 40+ days. He has a long record of standing up for liberty and if you were to ever suffer a false accusation then your views may well change. Yes he probably enjoys attention, but his words are worth listening to. May can shove her scaremongering. Most Tories care passionately about NOT having a Surveilence State.

      • ButcombeMan

        It was 90 days, the original proposal- Davis was right about that, a disgraceful proposal from Labour and New Scotland Yard. (Andy Hayman I recall). Hayman is mentioned in Leveson.

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