I am honoured to take part in this debate, as I was to serve on the Bill Committee. I waited with much anticipation to hear my hon. Friend Simon Hoare quote Rudyard Kipling, but I am not sure that the quote was forthcoming. At first, I thought he might say, as Kipling did:
“A woman’s guess is much more accurate than a man’s certainty.”
On reflection, I thought perhaps he would say that,
“words are…the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
That would have been an apt quote in the context of the Bill, because communication can be revolutionary. We saw that with printing. Printing established the first mass medium for transmitting information, and some historians said that it played a role in the unrest that characterised the devastating thirty years war. They say that because although the doctrines set out by Luther in the 16th century were formulated two centuries earlier, they did not spread until the printing revolution.
We are now in the midst of a technological revolution. It has never been easier for terrorists to spread hatred and devastation across continents and recruit others to do so. Our security services need the tools to keep up with the technological developments.
I will deal with two matters: first, the background to the bulk powers and the reasons we need them; and secondly, the safeguards that exist in the Bill in respect of bulk powers.
The threats that we face are real. MI5 has said that the number of terrorism offences has risen by 35% since 2010. David Anderson, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has said that at the time of his report, MI5 explained to him that it had
“disrupted two…plots by lone actors in the past nine months”.
It explained to him that,
“identifying such individuals is increasingly challenging, exacerbated by the current limitations in their technical capabilities”.
David Anderson was saying the same thing as the director of Europol, who in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee in January 2015 said:
“Given that a majority of those communications run by these networks are moving online, there is a security gap there.”
He thinks that that is
“one of the most pressing problems that police face across Europe.”
The bulk powers are an important part of our toolkit. The Home Office has said that the bulk capability has
“played a significant part in every major counter terrorism investigation of the last decade, including in each of the seven terrorist attack plots disrupted since…2014”.
There are safeguards in the Bill. I have counted at least seven in relation to bulk interception. Bulk interception relates only to overseas communications; it needs to be activated in the interests of national security, in cases of serious crime or in the interests of the economic wellbeing of the UK; a warrant can be issued only by the Secretary of State; it can be issued only if the action is necessary and proportionate; the action of the Secretary of State is reviewed by a judge; there are restrictions on copying, disseminating and retaining the material that is collected; and there is a panoply of offences for cases of misuse.
During the Bill’s passage we have heard about additional safeguards. The Home Secretary has committed to providing a further operational case for bulk powers. We saw yesterday, with the passing of new clause 5, that the decision on whether a bulk power is allowed will be subject to the additional safeguard of a test of whether the result could be achieved by less intrusive means.
Like printing, the internet is improving our ability to communicate. We need to give our security forces the means to keep pace with these developments, because a country that cannot protect its citizens provides no freedom at all.