My Lords, I support the Bill, yet in doing so, I understand all the fears and concerns about privacy that have followed it from inception and through its passage in the other place and which are now central to our discussions in your Lordships’ House. As we have heard, your Lordships now have the responsibility to set the balance between the need for privacy and the right of our fellow citizens to live in safety and security.
For seven years, from 1993 to 2000, I was Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and, as such, during those years I was at the centre of the policing operations to combat terrorism and organised and serious crime. I think the main service I can provide to your Lordships’ House today is to emphasise, as other have, but from my personal experience and knowledge, how advances in technology have totally transformed how terrorists, serious and organised criminals and paedophiles prepare for their crimes, conspire together and carry out them out. That is why the provisions in the Bill are essential if we are to protect our citizens. In preparing for the Bill, I spent time discussing it with the current director-general of the National Crime Agency and her predecessor, and I spent time with their operational colleagues at all levels in the National Crime Agency.
In 1996, only 20 years ago, and during my watch as commissioner, only 45 million people worldwide had access to the internet, and only 15 million of them were outside the United States of America. Google did not open its first office until 1998. iPhones were launched only nine years ago. Compare and contrast these facts with your own experience. According to Ofcom, 66% of adults in the United Kingdom now have smartphones, 81% of adults send emails and 62% of smartphone users have social media applications. The way that terrorists and criminals plan and conspire to carry out their crimes has been transformed in the relatively short period since I left the service. They have migrated from using mobile phones and meeting each other physically to a web-based and largely non-verbal environment.
The methods deployed by law enforcement agencies to disrupt and detect criminality in all its forms and to protect society must keep pace with these changes. The tradecraft and methods of preventing and detecting crime from my time in policing seem increasingly obsolete and ineffective when faced with the challenges of the digital age and communications data. Law enforcement agencies need to keep pace with the realities of these changes. Analogue-age powers are no match for digital-age terrorists and criminals. Telephone calls are no longer central to how people communicate, and they are certainly not how terrorists and other criminals communicate. As other noble Lords have said, criminals and terrorists now use social media, WhatsApp, internet chatrooms and every opportunity that a rapidly evolving internet world gives them.
Legislation must respond to these changes and, with vital checks and balances, create a framework which allows law enforcement to combat terrorism and serious crime. In most respects, this Bill seeks to consolidate and recalibrate existing powers, but I acknowledge that the extension of powers into the world of internet connection records is controversial and challenging. I believe the extension of powers into internet connection records is essential and is a proportionate response to the real world in which criminality and terrorism are planned and now take place. Communication data are a vital evidential ingredient of virtually every major case dealt with by law enforcement agencies. For example, the House heard earlier about the recent gun smuggling case which was this country’s biggest known gun smuggling operation. It was analysis of communications data that provided vital evidence and allowed the attribution of telephones, various other devices and SIM cards, and the identification of key locations linked to the gun smuggling. It should be remembered that similar automatic weapons, from similar European sources, were used in the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. Analysis of recent National Crime Agency cases suggests that in at least 14% of its cases relating to child abuse imagery, it would require the retention of internet communication records to have any prospect whatever of identifying a suspected paedophile. The provisions in the Bill relating to ICRs are not really about extending the boundaries of acceptable law enforcement but are more about retaining law enforcement capacity in the dramatically changing digital world.
I hope we will find ways to assuage the very understandable and reasonable fears that some Members of your Lordships’ House have about some or all of the Bill. In particular, I understand the concerns about the proposals for internet connection records, including how they are defined and what they can include. If additional privacy offences are required, let us add them to the Bill; if additional safeguards are required, let us define and incorporate them. But I hope your Lordships will be prepared, after what I know will be robust discussion, to pass the main provisions of the Bill.