New data powers may make it easy to ‘out’ people, former police chief Lord Paddick warns

Lib Dem peer Lord Paddick has warned that the Investigatory Powers Bill could have worrying repercussions for LGBT people.

The government-backed Investigatory Powers Bill bolsters the power of the security services, granting police new powers to seize the online communications and data of anyone suspected of a crime without requiring court action.

But Lord Brian Paddick, former Deputy Assistant Commissioner in London’s Metropolitan Police Service and former Lib Dem mayoral candidate, raised concerns about some of the powers.

Speaking in the House of Lords, he said: “I do not believe that anyone in this House believes that we do not have a right to privacy, but perhaps I should declare a personal interest in this area, in the example I am about to give.

“What about 25 years ago, when I was married to my wife, Mary, but I believed I was gay? Should I have been able to keep that situation private?

“What if someone today was in that position and wanted to research using the internet to get some help and guidance, for fear of talking to anyone and letting the cat out of the bag, like me in those days?

“This Bill requires internet service providers to record every website that everyone in the UK visits, to store that data for 12 months and to reveal those details to the police without a warrant if they suspect someone of crime. ”

He added: “If someone alleged that I roller-skated into a shop, indecently assaulted someone and roller-skated out again—apparently, one of the allegations made against Sir Cliff Richard—details of every website I had visited in the past 12 months could be handed over to the police without a warrant if we allow this Bill to pass as it stands.

“It is not too much of a stretch to think that someone might make an allegation against me, as a reasonably high-profile individual, so it would be not too far a stretch to think that I had better not seek confidential advice on the internet, in case it became public. How could it become public?

“Homophobia has been encountered in the police service, as has unauthorised disclosure of confidential information. ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear’ is not the same as ‘If you have done nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.

“Even if the police were to be trusted completely, massive pools — oceans — of data in the custody of private companies such as TalkTalk, one of the internet service providers that will be asked to store such data, would be sitting ducks for hackers, criminals, blackmailers and hostile foreign powers.

“For example, information that I frequently visited the Age UK and NatWest websites might make me a target for fraudsters trying to trick me into revealing my account details online by claiming to be from the bank, or they might even turn up at my front door, believing me to be frail and easily conned or overpowered.”

He added: “The RUSI panel set up by Nick Clegg when he was Deputy Prime Minister set out 10 tests for the intrusion of privacy. It is those 10 tests on which our opposition to parts of the Bill is based.

“One of the tests is that there must be transparency: how the law applies to the citizen must be evident. How many people in the UK know that 12 months of their web history—albeit the website that they are looking at rather than any further pages on that website—will be kept in case the police want to see it, as a result of this Bill’s provisions?

“The intrusion must be necessary in that there are no other practical means of achieving the objective. The security services MI5, MI6 and GCHQ say that they do not need internet connection records because they can get the information they need by other means.

“The intrusion must be proportionate to the advantages gained, not just in cost and resources but also through a judgment that the degree of intrusion is matched by ​the seriousness of the harm prevented. Internet service providers reckon that this will cost more than £1 billion in set-up costs alone.

“The measure may not provide the police with the website someone has visited because it is so easy to conceal it. It will not give the police any information about whether, or with whom, someone was communicating without making further inquiry of other companies such as Facebook, because almost all online communication is encrypted.

“If a serious crime is involved—the Minister listed a range of serious crimes that the Bill is intended to cover, including child sexual exploitation and terrorism—the security services, which do not need internet connection records, are duty bound to assist the police with their inquiries. We therefore need some convincing that internet connection records are both necessary and proportionate.”