Lord Carlile of Berriew was my immediate next door neighbour for the whole 13yr period he represented Montgomeryshire in the House of Commons. He was also and remains a good friend, and a man whose opinions I have always taken great note of. I suppose you could look on us as a early precursor to the current Conservative/Lib Dem Coalition. I respect his opinion, especially on legal matters. Today its being reported that he has told his Lib Dem colleagues to "grow up" in its approach to the Communications Data Bill. He has described some comments opposing the Bill as "irresponsible". And last week he said that the term "Snooper's Charter", (which is used by many who have contacted me as part of an email lobbying group's campaign) as a "complete traducement of the Bill". He's also makes the point that many private firms collect more intrusive information about us already. None of this surprises me because I met up with Alex two weeks ago for a coffee and discussion about all this.
Now its not only the Lib Dems who are concerned about the proposals in the Communications Data Bill. Plenty of Conservatives are concerned as well. And so are Labour, though Alex tells me the Bill is similar to proposals put forward by the Labour Gov't in 2007. I suppose that's what oppositions do. The reason I'd asked to speak to him about it was that I have an instinctive distrust in 'the state' accessing and holding any information about us that is not absolutely needed. No-one is better placed than Alex is to judge what is necesssary.
Most people who have raised the Bill with me in person (rather than email) have not known much about its content. Discussion seems to dilute their opposition. Gov't agencies already have access to communications data, but the law has not kept up with modern means of communication - mobiles, the web and social networking. The Bill extends powers to take account of modern technology. All it does is require providers to hold records so that 'approved' Gov't agencies can discover 'who, when,where and how' information - without having access to 'content'. Access to the information held would be granted only on a 'case by case basis', approved by a senior designated officer - with the whole process supervised by the Information Commissioner and the Interception of Communications Commissioner. Make of that what you will.
The questions we as MPs have to face is whether we are content to allow the Internet to operate as an 'unpoliced space' where criminals are free to roam, and whether the Communications Bill before us strikes the right balance between law enforcement and individual's privacy. Its no surprise that the Parliamentary process is leading to significant changes being made to the proposals. So far I've been publicly wholly supportive of the Home Secretary, even if I've shared some concern privately. Its a difficult sensitive issue