Yesterday in Parliament we heard further questioning of the Home Secretary about the evidence base for the draft Communications Data Bill.
The Home Secretary told the Joint Committee that of the 30,000 estimated cases last year where the police made an urgent request for communications data, between 25% and 40% of them resulted in lives being saved.
Let’s do the maths.
25% of 30,000 is 7,500 lives, so we can assume the Home Secretary was talking about a figure in the region of 10,000 lives.
The latest figures for murder are 550 between 2011-12, to put this into perspective.
Our own work under Freedom of Information law has found that police forces do not centrally log the kinds of offences they use communications data for, however one force did give us data and the requests included investigations into “other non-crime, traffic offences, theft and burglary.
What is not clear is why, given the Home Office have been working on this plan for nearly a decade, has there not been any effort to record how forces currently use communications data to inform the legislative proposals?
Indeed, quite what evidence the figure of 10,000 is based on is unclear. Of these, an awful lot will be emergency services looking up the location a 999 call is being made from. (And as far as we’re aware no suggestion has been made that these kind of calls are diverting to online communications.) It’s right emergency services can access data when they need to for 999 calls, however to say that using communications data is the only way to get that location information is misleading to say the least.
In evidence from Home Office officials, it also emerged that the Home Office has used a figure of £1.7m per life saved to estimate the benefits of the bill. The Chairman of the Committee picked up on this evaluation, questioning the overall benefits figure as “fanciful”.
Of course, we have been here before. Speaking after the collapse of another Home Office scheme, then Minister Tony McNulty said: “Perhaps in the past the government, in its enthusiasm, oversold the advantages of identity cards. We did suggest, or at least implied, that they might well be a panacea for identity fraud, for benefit fraud, terrorism, entitlement and access to public services.”