James Brokenshire, Security Minister in the Home Office, writes in the Spectator, defending the Communications Data Bill and saying there would be safeguards to protect the data collected:
And finally, the Bill contains clear safeguards around our proposals. Any public servant who misuses information will not go unpunished. A number of offences already exist on the statute books to address situations where public officials, and other individuals, abuse access to personal data.
Misuse of communications data is likely to be part of criminal activity such as misuse of computer systems and hacking, all of which are offences and carrying heavy repercussions. Knowingly or recklessly obtaining or disclosing personal data, for example, carries a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine, while misconduct in public office can lead to life imprisonment.
More broadly, oversight of the use of the powers will be provided by the Interception of Communications Commissioner and the Information Commissioner, both of whom will report to Parliament each year on the use of the powers. These senior figures have shown in the past their independence and their willingness to hold public authorities to account.
However Mark Pack, writing in the same publication, raises doubts:
What do you do if a regulator has failed? Leave them unreformed and instead give them greater powers? That is the line Home Office Minister James Brokenshire is arguing.
The regulator in question is the Interception of Communications Commissioner and the powers relate to online monitoring. For the Draft Communications Data Bill would not only give the government far more scope to monitor what we do online, but Brokenshire also argues we should be reassured that a large part of these new powers would be monitored by that Commissioner.
However, take a look at the record and what you see is a failed regulator. Most damningly, in 2011 the New York Times published strong prima facie evidence that the current interception rules were being regularly and systematically broken, with journalists getting illegal access to the very data the Commissioner is meant to protect. The Commissionerâ€™s response? To do nothing. No investigation, no action â€“ not even a brief passing mention in his report on what happened in 2011.