Apparently it's not the Snooper's Charter. We've been told that by Julian Huppert (was Shirley Williams busy?) and that ought to be enough for all right-thinking, hard-working families. And please bear in mind, where we work, we win. I'm not sure whether that just applies to families, but I'm sure someone reassuring will be along to tell us soon.
Actually maybe I was wrong about the reassuring bit. Depends whether you find 12 stone of gammon on the turn and wearing an Armani suit to be reassuring. David Cameron has tweeted that "I'll be explaining today why emergency legislation is needed to maintain powers to help keep us safe from those who would harm UK citizens." And after that he'll be showing how you can use those leftovers from the Sunday roast to make a lovely flan.
David Cameron of course is the man who once said "Too many tweets make a twat." Post hoc ergo propter hoc is the phrase that comes to mind.
Anyway, there's a press release knocking about. That ought to put our minds to rest, shouldn't it?
A few quotes and a few thoughts on them.
"The Bill includes a termination clause that ensures the legislation falls at the end of 2016 and the next government is forced to look again at these powers." Because the next government won't be one of the parties who have agreed to this bill, will they? And having these powers already in place won't in any way mean that they are easier to keep or indeed to extend.
"We will establish a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board on the American model, to ensure that civil liberties are properly considered in the formulation of government policy on counter-terrorism. This will be based on David Anderson's existing role as the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation." So it'll be something similar to what already exists, but with the name changed?
"We will restrict the number of public bodies that are able to approach phone and internet companies and ask for communications data. Some bodies will lose their powers to access data altogether while local authorities will be required to go through a single central authority who will make the request on their behalf." So, restrict. Is the number not already restricted? We're told that some bodies will lose powers. Will any bodies gain powers?
And then we have some examples of crimes which would be more difficult to effectively investigate.
First up - "Murder– those who conspired to assist the killers of Rhys Jones were caught using evidence from mobile phones, which proved they were associating at certain key times and places." Please note - this does not actually suggest that the evidence gathered had any effect of Rhys' killers being caught, but rather people who assisted. Any thoughts that this particular case was chosen because it involved the death of a child are utterly cynical.
"Sexual exploitation– the men who groomed young girls in Rochdale were prosecuted, in part, using mobile phone call evidence which showed their association with each other and contact with victims." It's perhaps worth noting that, while the press release says that the conviction was "in part" because of this evidence, Cameron at his press conference has said that the convictions would not have happened at all without the mobile phone evidence.
"Door step fraud– a gang who conned an 85-year-old were prosecuted using evidence that they had called the victims repeatedly from their mobile phone." At this point, you may be wondering whether this is going to affect any crimes which don't affect either children or the elderly.
"Locating Vulnerable People– Mobile phone location data was used to direct a search by Mountain Rescue and locate an elderly man with medical conditions, who had gone missing following a hospital appointment." Another elderly man? Good grief...
There was a case in the news today of a farmer who lost his mobile phone and later had it returned to him. I can only assume that this appeared too late to be included in the press release...
One final justification is included.
"A major recent Europol investigation into online child sexual exploitation (known as Operation Rescue) gives an indication of what the impact would be:Of 371 suspects identified in the UK, 240 cases were investigated and 121 arrests or convictions were possible. One man was sentenced in March 2010 to six years’ imprisonment for sexual abuse of two minors after police discovered more than 60,000 indecent images on his computer.In contrast, of 377 suspects identified in Germany, which has no such data retention arrangements, only seven could be investigated and no arrests were made." It might be worth mentioning that this was actually a UK-led investigation in which Europol also took part, as well as police from Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands and Canada. This is not something that gives me confidence in the press release. Also - 121 arrests or convictions? According to the Guardian in March 2011, there had been 33 convictions.http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/mar/16/global-paedophile-ring-smashed
There may have been more convictions since then, but presumably not many otherwise the number of convictions would actually be mentioned. Going from 371 suspects to 240 investigated to 121 arrests to 33 convictions suddenly sounds rather less impressive...