My Lords, it is humbling to follow so many noble Lords this evening who, if it is not too back-handed a compliment to say it these days, are such experts in this subject. Let me declare my more prosaic interest as the chief executive of TalkTalk, the communications service provider.
Debating the balance between liberty and security is not new. What has changed is the methods people use to threaten our security and to express their freedom. It will not come as a surprise to hear that I think that the internet is a wonderful tool, but just as it can accentuate what is good about the world, it can also accentuate the bad. There is a growing body of psychological evidence that the internet amplifies human behaviour. People shout online in a way they would never do to someone’s face, and the internet can connect criminals globally in a way that would be inconceivable in the physical world. The internet did not invent child abuse, terrorism or organised crime, but left unchecked it does allow those crimes to be committed on a much grander scale. Any child abuse is clearly horrific, but the internet takes those crimes to a global audience and allows those criminals to monetise it globally.
We know that ungoverned spaces in the physical world become havens for criminality. The same is true online. I am passionate about the opportunity the digital world can bring for this country—even more so after the events of the last week or so. I see the opportunity for Britain to be a brilliant digital nation, but we need a civilised digital world where the rule of law is clearly established by Parliament, where our law enforcement agencies have clearly articulated powers to act in the digital space, and where there is robust and transparent monitoring of those agencies by the judiciary and Parliament. That is why I am pleased to support the Bill and to play a part in what is clearly a very important debate.
As my noble friend the Minister said, the vast majority of the Bill covers powers that already exist under various disparate Bills. As DRIPA expires, the Government are right to take the opportunity to consolidate those powers into a single Bill, creating simplicity and the very transparency that is one of the ways to ensure that we maintain the right balance between freedom and security.
As a number of noble Lords have said, the Bill also needs to keep pace with technological changes, and I would like to focus my remarks on the most significant new power in it: the use of internet connection records. Whereas once, criminals communicated by phone, like everyone else they are increasingly moving online. For criminals—in fact, for all of us—the boundaries between the digital and the physical world are very porous, but our current legal framework still treats them very differently. Knowing what website someone visits is just the modern equivalent of knowing who they called. Knowing what IP address they are using, I would argue, is very similar to knowing which phone line they are calling from. Yet at present, we create a false legal distinction that artificially handicaps law enforcement agencies by denying them digital powers equivalent to those they have in the voice telephony world.
From my experience, it is right that police can access communications data. In just the first six months of 2016, nearly three-quarters—72%—of National Crime Agency comms data applications to TalkTalk related to child sexual exploitation. But child abusers definitely do not just use their phones to make calls. The next biggest category, 16%, concerned threats to life. How many of these cases would be resolved, how many lives saved, by extending access to internet connection records as opposed to voice calls only? That is why I welcome the inclusion of internet connection records, and why I believe that access to them is proportionate in a digital world. That does not mean, however, that we should just wave this legislation through. The digital world amplifies all behaviour, good and bad, so it is undoubtedly important that we scrutinise very carefully how these new powers can be used and their use monitored.
I will not even attempt to opine on the legal checks and balances proposed in this legislation. I am not a lawyer—I run a business—and I bow to the considerable legal expertise in this House and the other place on how best to ensure sufficient oversight, so that the various agencies that could access this data do so only when appropriate, and to ensure that individual freedom to roam the internet legally is well protected. But as the great legal minds in this Chamber begin that debate, I would like to add a little practical context on both the feasibility and the associated costs of storing and using internet connection records.
In principle, it is feasible for communication service providers to store internet connection records. It is, however, a non-trivial task, and the Government will have to work closely with them for some time to ensure it is achieved in a proportionate, practical and cost-effective way. Different businesses’ networks are configured in different ways, so the flexibility the Bill allows for different approaches is a practical and pragmatic way forward. The combination of obligations on the Home Office to consider the practical implications and costs on businesses before issuing a data retention notice, including the new privacy clause that places an obligation to consider the security of data storage systems, set out clear safeguards that prevent this legislation being implemented in a way that is unreasonable for businesses, or that places unachievable obligations on industry.
A number of domestic communication service providers, including my own, have questioned the Home Office’s cost estimates. While I think it is fair to say that concerns remain about these estimates, I was reassured by the clear commitment from the Home Office that its figures are an estimate based on its expected implementation and do not in any way represent a cap or a budget. The Home Secretary was explicit in the other place that Government would cover the costs incurred in the industry, and colleagues of mine across the sector will hope that my noble friend the Minister can reiterate that today.
Let me be clear: there is more work to do. The Government need to work closely with all providers likely to be affected by the legislation in order to understand what these obligations may look like for each provider and how much they will cost. But this is to be expected with new obligations, and the Bill as drafted provides the industry with the right safeguards that businesses need.
This is a hugely important debate. The moral, legal and social scaffolding for the digital world does not yet fully exist. I am a firm believer that the UK is better placed than any nation in the world to take advantage of the digital revolution and, just as we did with the Industrial Revolution, we need to ensure that the digital world is a civilised world where there is the rule of law; where Parliament has set out how we as a society balance individual freedom with security; where we do not tolerate unpoliced no-go areas; and where British liberal democracy flourishes.
I believe that this is an important Bill that helps us in that journey, a Bill that gives the UK the legal framework needed to protect our citizens without infringing on the innovation and creativity that we love about the online world. I am pleased to support it.