My Lords, it is clear that technological developments have greatly enhanced the capacity of Governments, companies and citizens to know more about individuals and undertake surveillance, interception and data collection. As such, the internet has become the front line in the contemporary debate about privacy and security. Such developments, though, as many have said, have created new avenues for serious crime by individuals, gangs and nations on an international basis. This Bill is part of our—I stress “our”—attempt to square the circle between the needs of security and privacy. It is a Bill I welcome and support.
I served on the RUSI Independent Surveillance Review. Our report, A Democratic Licence to Operate, showed that we need not abandon the values that are most important to us as citizens in order to protect our society. Current legislation providing the basis for the interception of communications is less than 20 years old, but it predates Google, Facebook and Twitter, so we are right to refresh and update the tools of the state. The threat is clear. First, international organised crime knows no boundaries. Secondly, information and communications technology spans borders, but Governments must be able to protect their sovereign territory. We have to meet a challenge: in an open society the secret part of the state has to remain secret to protect the openness, but it has to be regulated. The state should always be reluctant to invade the privacy of its citizens, and those who do this vital work should do so with a feeling of unease.
The RUSI panel set out the 10 tests, which I shall come to—I will not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, said—which legislation and government should meet. First, I will refer to the private sector. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and other internet companies continue to lobby on this Bill. They could never have started up their commercial, profit-making businesses in autocratic societies such as Russia, Iran or China, to name just three. Our open, democratic system, based on the rule of law, which enabled them to start up and operate, is under threat. As such, they should not demand no-go areas for regulated law enforcement officers who seek out serious organised criminals. Law-enforcement agencies should never be in the position of not being able to seek, or ask about, information. This is not the same as having a back door into the servers of companies.
I sincerely hope that as the Bill proceeds—we have a way to go yet—we will explain that we do not conduct mass surveillance in the UK. Indeed, it is not done in the USA. Collection of bulk data, most of which are never even read, does not constitute mass surveillance. In general, I prefer Ministers to be involved in the warrants that are required for interception and surveillance. There is a degree of accountability that I think is an important aspect. But I do appreciate that this is not enough. There has to be a judicial role and oversight has to be strengthened. Indeed, I would want to be convinced that we have oversight of the oversight. We must always ask, “Who watches the watchers?”. The Bill attempts to do this. I note that the Government will bring forward amendments that were promised following the debates in the Commons.
It is amazing what is already being done but is never reported. Among our evidence sessions the RUSI panel held a round table with the Information Commissioner, the Intelligence Services Commissioner, the Interception of Communications Commissioner, the Surveillance Commissioner and the Chief Surveillance Inspector. I do not think that any of their published reports make the bestseller lists but they are there for us—parliamentarians and Select Committees—to read and question. That is absolutely crucial.
Unfortunately, however, in the past some public authorities have used powers which many believe they should not even have had access to. When RIPA 2000 went through, nobody raised the prospect of local authorities using it in respect of rubbish collection or access to school places. That has been stopped but it gave the whole thing a very bad, nasty taste. The powers in the Bill should be limited to the most serious issues affecting our society, with very strict rules about the process to be used.
Let us not beat about the bush or sugar-coat the issue: the Bill is about intrusion into privacy. The public have to be convinced that all the actions are legal and are the right actions to take on behalf of the public. This is not easy when some aspects must remain secret. The RUSI panel declared the 10 tests which Parliament, government and the public should apply when considering the conditions under which the police and intelligence and security agencies can intrude upon the privacy of the citizen. They are set out on pages 104 and 105 of our report. The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, listed the 10 tests. Between now and Committee, will the Minister provide a very short paper on how the Government think that the Bill meets the 10 tests? That will save a lot of time in Committee, because otherwise we will have debates for hours. They are legitimate tests to which the Government should respond. The panel spent a lot of time working on this issue. Such a response would not be too difficult and would considerably ease the Bill’s passage.
The Bill itself is a democratic licence from Parliament to government. The report’s title is correct: it is a licence to intrude but it is a democratic licence based on regulation and oversight. The Government’s role is to protect the nation, its citizens, our way of life and the values we live by. Our tolerance must not be abused by intolerance that seeks our destruction. We have to be careful that we do not allow our tolerance to lead to our own destruction. But, as the RUSI report shows, and as was backed up by other reports, we can maintain the values that are most important to us as citizens in order to protect our society. This Bill makes a very important contribution to this aim.