This morning the Home Secretary has come out and justified the Government’s plans to massively increase their surveillance. It seems that the justification is shifting from preventing incidents to helping convict people afterwards, as in the case of Ian Huntley.
How does this sit with the official enquiry?
“It emerged that Huntley had been known to the authorities over a period of years, coming into contact with the police and/or social services in relation to 11 separate incidents involving allegations of criminal offences, between1995 and 1999. Nine of these were sexual offences. This was not discovered in the vetting check carried out by Cambridgeshire Constabulary when he was appointed caretaker of Soham Village College late in 2001.”
So, the amount of data available to the authorities was not the issue – it was how they used it. This is not an isolated example.
Turning to the 7/7 Inquiry, the Coroner’s report discusses the issues involved with large amounts of data and surveillance:
“However, one must never lose sight of the fact that the material confronting the Security Service at the time would have comprised literally thousands of strands of intelligence of varying degrees of quality, in relation to thousands of possible contacts and hundreds of possible targets. The desk officers must usually work at speed and in very difficult conditions. We do not know the precise details, but we know enough properly to infer that the sheer scale and number of the threats facing the UK was immense. If one plot is discovered to involve an imminent threat to life resources must be diverted to meet it at the expense of other investigations.”
“Post 7/7 enquiries revealed that between 22nd February and 15th June 2005 there were forty one telephone contacts between mobile phones attributed to Tanweer, Khan, and Lindsay and hydroponics outlets. It is unlikely these could have been detected by surveillance given the large number of untraceable “operational” phones used by the bombers and only attributed to them once their identities and details were known.”
“There was some evidence on the question of the quality of the software supplied to the Security Service. G gave evidence that “it can be very difficult” to “dig into” the files and computer systems at the Security Service to try to find out if a particular person has previously come to their attention. Witness G was pressed on the ease with which the Security Service could, today, retrieve all references to someone with the surname Khan. He explained the difficulties given the large number of people bearing the name Khan. Inputting even the name Siddique Khan, for example, may not produce helpful results.”
Scaremongering about terrorists and paedophiles is not only a cheap and petty way of forcing policy through, but if we fail to learn the lessons of history public safety will be worse off.
Update: Compare and contrast the Labour Home Secretary’s arguments with those of the current Home Secretary.
Jacqui Smith:“Communications data is used as important evidence in 95% of serious crime cases and in almost all security service operations since 2004.”
Theresa May: “Such data has been used in every security service terrorism investigation and 95 per cent of serious organised crime investigations over the last ten years.”