We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
My Lords, I, too, was a member of the Joint Committee. This is the first time I have spoken on the Bill, for various reasons, and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, who chaired us so splendidly. The Bill has gone through a model of pre-legislative scrutiny. Compared with the state of most legislation that comes to us, it has really been chewed over, not least in the Commons, to improve it further. I am broadly comfortable with it.
It is good that we are looking at these issues because we are pushing the boat out. Inevitably, in the internet age, we are having to do things we have not done before. I understand the practical challenge of keeping internet connection records effectively. The Danish experiment is salutary—they effectively abandoned it. We had a witness from Denmark who explained it all to us: they had tried and failed. I think that the case for having access to internet connection records has been made. There is a document to which no reference has yet been made entitled Operational Case for the Use of Communications Data by Public Authorities—that is, other than the police—which lists about 20 authorities, such as the Financial Conduct Authority, and sets out case by case the value of having such records. I was with the majority on the committee which felt the case has been made in principle.
The Bill sets out various checks and balances. The companies which will be required to keep these records have a right to appeal against the notice and that must be discussed with the Information Commissioner to ensure that what is being asked of them is practically possible. They must put in place adequate security systems to ensure that the internet connection records which are retained are properly secure.
There are practical questions because we are pushing the boat out a bit internationally as to how this is to be achieved and how much it will cost. As I understand it, the cost will not fall on the companies concerned but will be reimbursed to them by the Government. It would be helpful to know the latest estimate of those costs. I have a feeling that it was about £200 million when we met in the committee, but it would be good to know just what it may cost.
At the end of the day, we live in an ever more fragile and dangerous world and there are good reasons for thinking that that will be the case in future. If we can add this tool with proper safeguards to the police and other agencies it is well worth doing, but we should not underestimate the practical difficulties of being the first country to do this effectively; there are real questions there.