ICO: Draft Communications Data Bill would only catch incompetent criminals

Giving evidence yesterday at Parliament’s Joint Committee on the draft Communications Data Bill, the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, said that it is questionable whether the Bill’s objective, providing access to communications data for law enforcement purposes, is achievable. 

Graham thought that increasing the ability to monitor up to 85% of communications data would not be an answer. Potential criminals would start using smaller communications service providers that would not be required to retain communications data. In addition, using encryption is now more common. “This would be a system to catch the incompetent criminal,” Graham said.

Graham said that if the draft Bill progresses, some serious conversations need to be started about the ICO’s role. The draft Bill defines many responsibilities but does not provide additional powers. Graham said that specialist staff, grant-in-aid and power to audit private sector companies would be needed.

While the ICO recognises that it is for Parliament to determine whether the proposals contained in the draft Bill are a proportionate response to the perceived problem of communications data capability, not knowing who the relevant communications providers are, and who the ICO would be required to monitor, puts the ICO under undue pressure.  The extent of the Information Commissioner’s role needs to be made clear, and there should be post-legislative scrutiny if the Bill is adopted.

Read more about this topic in the November issue of PL&B UK Report.