The Conservatives have made a clear offer to the public: they are saying that they will, if elected, revive plans for the Snooper’s Charter. Massive data gathering and analysis of your online habits would become available to the police and a range of public bodies. Powers that are currently being challenged in the courts, but are in practice available to GCHQ under programmes like TEMPORA, would become an everyday policing tool.
Theresa May said:
… because the way in which we communicate is increasingly online, our ability to obtain the data we need is declining rapidly and dangerously. Over a six-month period, the National Crime Agency estimates that it had to drop at least twenty cases as a result of missing communications data. Thirteen of these were threat-to-life cases, in which a child was judged to be at risk of imminent harm. In a three-month period, the Metropolitan Police had to drop twelve cases because communications data was not available. These cases included sexual offences and potential threat-to-life scenarios relating to a suicide threat and a kidnap.
The solution to this crisis of national security was the Communications Data Bill. But two years ago, it was torpedoed by the Liberal Democrats. I’m told that the Lib Dems now tell the newspapers that “they might have to give ground on surveillance powers in a future coalition agreement”. But they also say that they have “no intention of allowing changes before the general election”. This is outrageously irresponsible, because innocent people are in danger right now. If we do not act, we risk sleepwalking into a society in which crime can no longer be investigated and terrorists can plot their murderous schemes undisrupted. We have to give the police and the security services the powers they need to keep us safe. And that is what the next Conservative government will do.
To anyone paying attention to the post-Snowden debate, this is a remarkable suggestion. Rather than promising greater oversight, democratic control, or judicial supervision, in order to justify maintenance of already-existing population-wide data trawls, the response of the Conservative Party appears to be to roll out the same powers to an ever-wider group of people and purposes. They justify this, they say, as a power against terror plots: but that argument has been busted long ago. Not only are these technologies remarkably lacking in results, according to the NSA’s own evidence, but they are already available today to terrorism investigators.