Clause 23 — Extension of period of detention by judicial Authority
Orders of the Day — Terrorism Bill
2:15 pm

Photo of Charles Clarke

Charles Clarke (Home Secretary; Norwich South, Labour)

I shall make some progress, but before I conclude I shall give way to one or two of those who want to intervene.

I emphasise, as I said on Second Reading, that we are dealing with a very different threat now from the one we faced in previous decades. Recent terrorist plots have been designed to cause mass casualties with no warnings—I emphasise, no warnings, sometimes using suicide and with the threat of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons.

Some hon. Members have commented that terrorist cases are no more difficult to prosecute than complex fraud cases, but I argue that there is a very substantive difference between the two. In complex normal cases, the police may build a case before arresting an individual. It may also be possible to catch criminals red-handed in the act of committing a crime such as fraud, as the repercussions are not so great if the crime is committed. The need to ensure public safety by preventing mass casualty attacks that could be catastrophic in their effect means that it is necessary to make arrests in terrorist cases far earlier in the process than in other cases. That often means that much less evidence has been gathered at the point of arrest, so more time will be needed to gather sufficient evidence to charge a suspect.

Moreover, terrorist networks are often international, which means that highly complex inquiries have to be undertaken in many different jurisdictions. I remind the House again of the investigations into the events of 7 and 21 July, which yielded 38,000 exhibits that filled two warehouses, and so on. Terrorist networks are also now highly capable of using technology. In recent cases a large number, sometimes in the hundreds, of computers and hard drives have been seized. Much of the data on such computers and hard drives have been encrypted and take time to decrypt. The data then need to be analysed to incorporate the outcome of that analysis into an interview strategy.

Following the debates in the House and the request from hon. Members in all parts of the House for more substance, over the past few days I have consulted advisers from the National Technical Assistance Centre, whose experts deal with the hardest and most important decryption jobs. Their advice has been unequivocal. A 14 or even 28-day period will not allow them the time they need adequately to investigate the most heavily encrypted data. They have made it clear to me that the use of advanced encryption technology by those who pose a threat to law and order or the security of the country is becoming more widespread and is growing rapidly. Encryption is more pervasive, more complex and easier to use than ever before.

That poses a significant challenge to police and investigators on two fronts. First, it means that even sifting the evidence to identify which computers require specialist investigation and decryption usually—the experts' word—takes a number of weeks. Each computer must be examined to assess what data can be easily gleaned and where heavyweight code-breaking is required.

Secondly, even after the protected data sources have been identified, significant additional time may be needed to decode potential evidence. NTAC has advised me that this is an extremely challenging and time-consuming task, running in the majority of the hardest cases into weeks at the very least, and often even into periods of months. Taking all this together, the technical judgment of the professionals is clear and simple. They need more time to be able to deal with such challenges. We must honour that.

Forensic requirements, too, are more complex and more time-consuming. My right hon. Friend Mr. Battle made a tremendous speech last week about the bomb factory in his constituency and the issues raised by that case. We should take seriously the professional advice of the investigators, the police and the prosecutors about the time needed to enable investigators to reach conclusions.

I shall give way now for the last time, then I shall wind up.

Annotations

Julian Todd
Posted on 10 Nov 2005 12:33 am (Report this annotation)

I guess if you say something enough times, it becomes true:

"I emphasise... that we are dealing with a very different threat now from the one we faced in previous decades. Recent terrorist plots have been designed to cause mass casualties with no warnings..."

Meanwhile, back in the real world of the historical record, there is the Omagh bombing:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/151985.stm

An atrocious act which the politicians consciously decided would not herald the rolling back civil rights and police accountability in Northern Ireland, since it would not more towards the objective of peace and security there.

Chris Lintott
Posted on 10 Nov 2005 10:12 am (Report this annotation)

A nice fudge as well between the actual use of suicide bombers and the 'threat' of chemical and biological weapons.

Paul Mitchell
Posted on 11 Nov 2005 8:28 pm (Report this annotation)

Quoting the Home Secretary:
Taking all this together, the technical judgement of the professionals is clear and simple. They need more time to be able to deal with such challenges. We must honour that.

So why not make time by hiring or finding, training, eqipping and paying more technical professionals, you cheapskate? Why trade civil liberty for fiscal prudence?

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