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Mr. Heald: Before I do so, I should say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said at the outset, on Second Reading, that she was concerned at the wide range of information which was covered by the power dealing with communications data. She expressed those difficulties fully. In Committee, we tabled amendments which dealt with the issue. We tried to limit the power to cases where it was absolutely necessary to provide information and to deal with definitional problems.
We failed to make the progress that we should have done on that issue. However, it has been possible in the Lords, as a result of the new co-operation, to tighten the definitions of traffic data and address the issue of dial-through fraud, which had not been fully noted in this place. We therefore welcome the changes.
At the end of the proceedings in the House of Lords, my noble Friend Lord Cope observed that the Bill had been much improved. Earlier today we heard from Madam Speaker how important it is to scrutinise legislation properly. This is a case in which the two Houses together have achieved a great deal. I have joshed the Minister slightly so far, but I agree with him that, as regards the first groups of amendments, the position is much improved.
It is right that the Bill should have passed through the House of Lords, and we accept the burden of the amendments, although we will want to see how the Bill works in practice, we will want to study the codes of practice in detail when they come before the House, and we will want to be sure that any order-making powers are exercised sensitively.
Mr. Ian Bruce: My hon. Friend kindly read a list of organisations that had helped with the Bill. Will he put it on record that the group from the European Informatics Market group, EURIM, of which I am chairman, was headed by Chris Sundt, who had previously worked for ICL and was brought out of retirement to help? He worked constructively with that group, with the Confederation of British Industry group and with Government officials. I hope that my hon. Friend will acknowledge that Chris Sundt was particularly helpful.
Mr. Heald: I am happy to do that. I did not list all the names of all the people who helped, but perhaps I should have done. I did not think that the House would want me to do so. Certainly, Chris Sundt of EURIM made a substantial and detailed contribution, as did Philip Virgo, who is with EURIM as well. I could also mention Tom Wills Sandford of the Federation of the Electronics Industry, Caspar Bowden of the Foundation for Information Policy Research, and Tim Baker of the London Investment Bankers Association. I could go on all night, but I shall not.
I have no intention of going over issues previously debated, and if I did, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I know that you would rule me out of order. However, I seek a simple answer to a simple question, to which the Minister can say yes or no. The question is: can communications data obtained by one body under a notice given to a telecommunications operator be disclosed at a later time to another body for use for another purpose?
That should be easy to answer, one way or the other. If the Minister says, "No, communications data cannot ever subsequently be used for purposes other than those originally specified in the notice given to the telecommunications operator," I can stop speaking now.
My view is that communications data can be obtained legitimately under the Bill and, at a later stage, the data can be disclosed to another body for another purpose. For example, if such data were obtained by the police, it is possible to see how the data could subsequently be disclosed to the Inland Revenue or Customs and Excise, if powers described in some other legislation were exercised by those bodies.
Mr. Clarke: I hope that I can help my hon. Friend, who has been assiduous in pressing this important point. The Data Protection Act 1998 already places restrictions on the use that can be made of personal data. In particular, the second data protection principle states:
There is a national security exemption in the 1998 Act, but the existing law also provides safeguards against the dissemination of information by the intelligence service in relation to the form of special arrangements that must be in place under the Security Service Act 1989 and the Intelligence Services Act 1994. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that the Bill covers the point that he raises.
Mr. Cohen: I am grateful that the Minister has put that on the record. It is an interesting assurance, which I want to explore. I am not challenging the national security exemption, but let us consider the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998, which offer another route for a large number of subsequent disclosures for other purposes.
For example, on Second Reading, I raised the matter of communications data being available for council tax purposes. The Minister denied that that would happen. Indeed, I was told in a parliamentary written answer on 10 July that the Data Protection Act places restrictions on the degree to which information may be shared by organisations--the point that the Minister has just made--but that shows that information can, indeed, be shared.
My understanding of section 29 of the 1998 Act is that its broad provisions permit a local authority to collect personal data for council tax purposes from any data controller, and that such disclosure of communications
The non-disclosure provisions in clause 27(4)(b), in the circumstances that I described, have the effect of negating the impact of the second principle, contrary to what the Minister said, and most of the other principles as well. I cite again the parliamentary answer that I received recently, in particular the reference to restrictions found in the Data Protection Act 1998.
Furthermore, I note that on the Home Office's website with respect to the Bill, Customs and Excise confirms that it obtains communications data 18,000 times per quarter under the current arrangements. That represents 72,000 notices a year under the Bill. I am not sure of the final number for all the self-authorising officials, but if we take into account the fact that communications data will be obtained by the Inland Revenue, more than 50 police forces, 400 local authorities and their benefits inspectors, the Department of Social Security, MI5, MI6, Government communications headquarters operations and possibly staff of the worthy egg inspectorate, among others, it is clear that we are dealing with half a million authorisation notices a year issued by hundreds of self-authorising officials.
Mr. Clarke: Does my hon. Friend accept that Customs and Excise is involved in that because one of its principal responsibilities is fighting organised crime, particularly organised drug crime? The relationships between the organised criminal networks are a key source of data in that fight. That is why, for Customs and Excise, that level of data collection is extremely important.
I return to the point about the notices from hundreds of self-authorising officials. How on earth will such a rate of communications data obtaining be supervised by an overworked interception commissioner, presumably with just a handful of staff? Is he going to say, "Hey, Bob, can you look at this batch of 100,000 self-authorisations before lunch?" How can we expect the commissioner to supervise the hundreds of self-authorising officials, and hundreds of thousands of different acts of obtaining information?