Britain’s intelligence agencies will be allowed to continue with a Russian-style “dragnet approach” to the bulk collection of data under the government’s proposed snooper’s charter, Nick Clegg has warned.
The former deputy prime minister highlighted a “great congregation of concern” across the political spectrum after Theresa May published the draft investigatory powers bill. It would allow the security agencies to access the internet browsing histories of UK citizens for up to 12 months and establish a new legal framework for tracking web and phone use.
Clegg told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: “Very few other countries other than Russia take this dragnet approach.”
He spoke out as the draft investigatory powers bill joint committee, made up of peers and MPs, published a critical report on the bill. And parliament’s intelligence and security committee (ISC) warned earlier this week that the draft bill failed to account for all the intrusive spying powers of the security agencies.
Dominic Grieve, the ISC chairman, said: “It is … disappointing that the draft bill does not cover all the agencies’ intrusive capabilities – as the committee recommended last year. This means that the various powers and authorisations remain scattered throughout different pieces of legislation and, as a result, the draft bill is limited in the extent to which it can provide a comprehensive legal framework. In our view it is a missed opportunity.”
Clegg, who forced the Tories to abandon an earlier version of the snooper’s charter as deputy prime minister in 2012, highlighted the concerns over the new draft bill.
He said: “Why there is this great congregation of concern from all wings of political opinion is because what the home office is in essence proposing is that in order to be able to surveil and analyse something they are saying they want to collect everything on everyone. That is a dragnet approach which I have always felt is disproportionate.”
He dismissed the analogy of the needle in the haystack – the argument that the security agencies need to embark on the bulk collection of data in order to be able to find crucial nuggets of details about terrorists.
He told Today: “I know the needle-haystack argument and it is a comforting analogy. But the reality is a little different. Why, for instance, is there no other European or Commonwealth country that I know that pursues this dragnet approach?
“The Americans and the Canadians, according to the independent reviewer of anti-terrorism legislation David Anderson, told him there are constitutional constraints on them pursuing this dragnet approach. The Australians have a prohibition on it. The Danes interestingly had a very similar power for some years and then scrapped it a couple of years ago because they discovered, unsurprisingly, that the police were drowning in huge amounts of useless information.
“The Home Office in Britain, almost uniquely in the developed world, has been peddling this idea for about eight years now that you need to create a vast bucket of information about everybody’s interaction on the internet every second of the day.
“So the question is about proportionality. Is it proportionate in a small ‘l’ liberal, small ‘d’ democracy to retain information on everything – from the music you download on Spotify, to the app you opened, to the supermarket website that you visit – in order to go after the bad guys? Very few other countries other than Russia take this dragnet approach.”