HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
It is all too tempting to view the threats facing our nation as abstract, or to believe that we have always handled such problems and that those enemies confronting us now are essentially much like others that did so in the past. It is tempting because, as T.S. Eliot put in his Four Quartets, “humankind cannot bear very much reality.”
The reality of fast paced technological change in the modern, inter-connected globalised world, however, shatters this abstraction. The real threats we face from terrorism, cyber-criminals and organised crime are evolving rapidly, so making the response to such ferocious and flexible challenges enormously testing.
Last week I introduced the Investigatory Powers Bill to Parliament, an important piece of legislation that I will be taking through the Commons. We aim to ensure that the powers used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies are fit for purpose in the digital age, giving those who work to keep us safe better access to the communications data they require.
The need for such powers is brought into sharp focus knowing that terrorists and serious criminals use encryption to hide their wicked words and deeds. Just as we can’t allow safe spaces for terrorists to plan violent acts in the world around us, neither can we allow it in cyberspace. As the head of MI5 put it, Britain would be more vulnerable to attack “if parts of the radar go dark” and terrorists can communicate beyond the reach of the intelligence agencies.
Opponents of these reasonable and vital measures often make exaggerated –and wholly misleading- complaints that powers for the guardians of our wellbeing constitute mass surveillance. In fact, with MI5 and CCHQ working day after day to protect people from the threat from Islamist terrorists, access to collected data is strictly limited and subject to tests of proportionality and necessity. As well as which, the new Bill, following scrutiny of its draft version by no less than three independent Parliamentary committees, adds more checks and balances and an improved oversight regime.
Theoretical civil liberties concerns may appeal to human rights lawyers and those who move in bourgeois liberal circles, but ordinary Britons don’t share their shrill hyperbole. A YouGov poll conducted last year showed that nearly two thirds of people trust the intelligence agencies to behave responsibly with information obtained using these powers – the British people simply want those whose job it is to protect us to have the means they need to do so.
The Government must do what is right to protect people, and failing to update these powers is just not an option; as Albert Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”