Police to get power to identify web crime suspects

Theresa May wants more data law to tackle sex crimes and terrorism. Picture: PA
Theresa May wants more data law to tackle sex crimes and terrorism. Picture: PA
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POLICE are to be given new powers to compel internet firms to record details which could identify suspected terrorists and paedophiles.

Under the Anti-Terrorism and Security Bill, service providers will be required to retain information linking Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to individual users.

The proposal received support from across the political spectrum, but the Liberal Democrats warned Home Secretary Theresa May against attempts to resurrect a raft of more invasive powers under a so-called “snoopers’ charter”.

The legislation will let police identify who was using a computer or mobile phone at a given time. The Home Office said it could be used to tackle not only organised crime, child sex offenders and terrorists, but cyber bullies and vulnerable young people at risk on social media.

However, Mrs May said the legislation did not remove the need for further laws under the Communications Data Bill, which would require internet service providers (ISPs) and mobile operators to record much more data about what their customers are doing online.

She said: “The [Anti-Terrorism and Security] bill provides the opportunity to resolve the very real problems that exist around IP resolution and is a step in the right direction towards bridging the overall communications data capability gap. But I believe we need to make further changes to the law.

“It is a matter of national security and we must keep on making the case for the Communications Data Bill until we get the changes we need.”

But the Lib Dems said the data bill – branded the “snoopers’ charter” – was “dead and buried”.

The party also stressed that Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg had been calling for the IP measures since spring 2013.

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“It is good news that the Home Office has finally got round to producing proposals on this after being repeatedly asked by Nick Clegg. These can now be agreed and acted on in the upcoming bill,” a Lib Dem spokesman said.

“This is exactly the kind of thing we need to take action on, rather than proposing an unnecessary, unworkable and disproportionate snoopers’ charter. There is absolutely no chance of that illiberal bill coming back under the coalition government – it’s dead and buried.”

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael said the measures proposed under the Anti- Terrorism and Security Bill were a “sensible compromise”.

The Lib Dem MP said: “It is far removed from the snoopers’ charter that the Home Office originally wanted, which produced such a very strong reaction from people across the country, that sort of intrusive practice is not going to be part of it. We have now got one narrow, very clearly defined power which allows the security services to link names to numbers and nothing else. I think that’s good for security and strikes a balance between the security of the nation and the liberty of the individual.”

While every computer has an IP address, these can change if a modem or router is turned off, and are usually shared by different users. Anyone using a public wifi network will only be assigned a temporary IP address.

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But under the new legislation, internet firms will be required to store data on which IP address was allocated to a device at a given time, allowing police to match individuals to their internet use.

Emma Carr, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “It is perfectly reasonable that powers to provide the police with the ability to match an IP address to the person using that service are investigated.

“However, if such a power is required, then it should be subject to the widespread consultation and comprehensive scrutiny that has been sorely lacking to date with industry, civil society and the wider public when it comes to introducing new surveillance powers.

“Before setting her sights on reviving the snoopers’ charter, the Home Secretary should address the fact that one of the biggest challenges facing the police is making use of the huge volume of data that is already available, including data from social media and internet companies. The snoopers’ charter would not have addressed this, while diverting billions from investing in skills and training for the police.”

Counter-terrorism powers remain one of the areas of legislation reserved to Westminster, despite recent calls from some quarters that they be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who has ultimate responsibility for counter-terrorism policing, said policy was moving in the “right direction”, but insisted parliament had to decide the balance between privacy and security.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “We will look at the detail the government brings forward on making it possible for the police and security services to identify terrorists and criminals online.

“We have always said that key information on IP addresses is required by the police when investigating who has sent abusive images of children or terror threats.

“It is important that access must be subject to appropriate oversight providing sufficient checks and balances.

“The government wanted to take powers that were far too widely drawn in the Communications Data bill and we have insisted on a major review of RIPA [Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act] by the independent terrorism reviewer.

“Public confidence must be maintained to make sure the invaluable work the police and security services do to keep us safe can continue and is supported.”

Tory back-bencher David Davis, a former shadow home secretary, said: “It’s a stepping stone back to the old snoopers’ charter.

“The thing that parliament roundly threw out about a year and half ago, two years ago because they weren’t convinced that this was necessary.

“Now this technical change is OK, it’s sensible, but the home secretary has said in effect that she sees it as a route back into the whole snoopers’ charter and, frankly, I think she’s going to have real trouble.”

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