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Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): Amendment No. 58 is linked with amendment No. 14, which was so well moved by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). He was right to point out the importance of communications data and the invasive nature of its collection, analysis and use--or misuse. I pay credit to the hon. Gentleman for what he said.

My probing amendment states that communications data

I want to explore the extent to which communications data collected for one purpose could subsequently be used for another. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister stated that such communications data cannot be used for other purposes, such as council tax and the collection of vehicle excise duty. I am not so sure about that--as I shall explain to the House.

Let us suppose that the police obtain communications data, subject to proper authorisation procedures, codes of practice and other notices required by the Bill. Under section 29 of the Data Protection Act 1998, a disclosure from the police can be made if they are satisfied that the failure to disclose would prejudice

During the debates on that measure in 1998, it was held that that provision included council tax and vehicle excise duty.

If the police obtained communications data in accordance with chapter II, there would seem to be nothing to stop them--at a later stage--volunteering the data, by virtue of section 29 of the 1998 Act, for example, to local authorities for the collection of council tax, to the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency or, of course, for use by the Inland Revenue or Customs and Excise. As far as I can see, that is lawful; it is permitted under section 29 of the Data Protection Act. If my interpretation of the law is wrong, I hope that my hon. Friend will tell me clearly, so that my concern can be put to rest.

What is more likely is that another Department will be able to exercise powers to demand communications data from the organisation that obtained them. For instance, I am sure that other legislation covering the operations of the Inland Revenue, the Department of Social Security, the immigration authorities or Customs and Excise would permit a demand for such data. Indeed, under the previous Conservative Government, the immigration authorities required local authorities to provide them with such information.

I thus conclude that it is possible for communications data to be demanded for other purposes after its collection--if that is permitted by other legislation. However, if I am wrong, I hope that the Minister will state clearly that no other legislation would require such subsequent disclosure. If the Minister cannot provide that assurance, I must conclude that such further use is a possibility and is legal.

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If I am correct, the authorisation process in chapter II would be irrelevant to the protection of privacy, because communications data could be volunteered to, or demanded by, other bodies at a later stage. An official could legitimately authorise collections of communications data and keep proper records only for them subsequently to be used for another purpose. If that is true, the relevant commissioner, who examined the authorisation process, would not know of such disclosures; nor would the telecommunications operator or the public. To put it bluntly, the whole authorisation process and all the protections afforded by chapter II could be reduced to a meaningless sham, because there would be no record of subsequent disclosures as part of the authorisation process.

That is an unacceptable prospect--hence my probing amendment. Its purpose is to stop any subsequent use that was not authorised at the time of the collection of the communications data.

In Committee, I expressed a difference of view with the Minister on communications data. He seemed to regard the matter as being not particularly important--certainly in respect of other forms of data and information collected. There is a danger that he and the Government are being too casual about communications data. There is potential for misuse and there should be proper controls.

9.15 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes: I am grateful to the hon. Members for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) and for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) for raising this important subject and for giving us the opportunity to have a short and important debate on it.

I shall discuss the issues in the order that they were raised. Liberal Democrats are sympathetic to amendment No. 14, which was moved by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire. It would remove the general additional justification for the acquisition of communications data.

As the hon. Gentleman spoke, I reflected on a thought that I have had before. It is generally accepted that the acquisition of data on patterns of communication can be as intrusive as the interception of the communication itself. For example, the interception of a letter or a telephone call might, in a sense, be no worse than someone knowing whom one phones and how often one does that. If that process is carried out illegitimately, it is a modern form of stalking. Someone's telecommunications movements can be followed in the same way as someone else's physical movements are followed. That can be equally threatening and oppressive.

The tracking of telecommunications movements can be carried out comprehensively. In one of my meetings with the police since becoming Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, I examined how they do that for the perfectly proper purpose of criminal investigation. They monitor dealings between persons A and B who might be plotting or arranging a meeting to hand over illegal goods or imported drugs. Every phone call and communication will be monitored. The methods used to get round the monitoring are becoming ever more imaginative, but technology continues to catch up. It is important that the police have the power to monitor communications, and that is why our general premise from the beginning was to support the Bill. However, not just the interception of

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communications, but the management and control of that interception must be brought within the framework of legislation.

We welcome the proposal that data should be collected only if that is justified by the seven specific grounds in clause 21. We should not provide for the general and completely unqualified ground that is outlined in subsection (2)(h). It is worth noting that clause 5 does not give such a wide power to Secretaries of State or to those who grant warrants on the interception of data. Although it provides a more general provision to cover the protection of national security, the detection or protection of serious crime or to safeguard the economic well-being of the United Kingdom, it qualifies that power. Subsection(3)(d) states:

a crime prevention or detection provision--

Although that is a wide power, it is not unlimited in the same way as the power in clause 21.

On amendment No. 58, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead, it is right, in principle, to make sure that information obtained, for example, for the prevention or detection of crime or in the interests of public safety should not be generally available so that it can be shipped from one agency to another. The hon. Gentleman's remarks were considered and cautious when he said that it was a probing amendment and it is worth raising the issue at this stage. However, if he and the House are not satisfied by the Minister's reply, we or the other place should consider returning to the subject later. It is important that there is a specific power that authorises the interception of communications only for a specific purpose. Once we have obtained information, we should not allow it to be passed around the system.

I have a question for the Minister about a matter that was not dealt with earlier. I am not aware that the various notices that can be applied for, and which we debated when we dealt with part III, are legally time limited and therefore automatically lapse after a certain period. That issue is related to the implications of the amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead. If we introduce a power to acquire information, we should not only prevent it from being used for any purpose but make sure that it is not given indefinitely and that there is a requirement to have it renewed.

Where in the Bill is there a provision to end the power given by a warrant or other measure? If there is no such provision, does not the Minister consider that we ought to amend the Bill to limit the duration of a power, in the same way that search warrants and other warrants obtained by the police are time limited?

Mr. Charles Clarke: Before I respond to specific points, I must comment on the quote from Philip Virgo given by the hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald). Mr. Virgo's e-mail said:

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I emphasise, as I have tried to do throughout these debates, that any perception that we are concerned only with civil rights issues, and not with e-commerce business issues, is wrong. We have sought to address a wide variety of issues with many contacts, including the European Informatics Market.

The hon. Member for North-East Hertfordshire quoted Mr. Virgo's statement that

I do not agree. City institutions generally are concerned about human rights issues, and obviously have different views about how they should be addressed. I want to put on the record the fact that the Government do not accept Mr. Virgo's assessment, first, of the debate in general and, secondly, of the importance of human rights issues to commercial organisations.

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