Transport secretary Geoff Hoon said last night that if the government is not able to harvest details of all internet communications, society will have granted terrorists a licence to kill.
Appearing on BBC One's Question Time*, the journeyman minister was asked by Liberal Democrat MP and fellow panellist Julia Goldsworthy how far the government is willing to go undermine civil liberties to monitor extremists. An irritated Hoon snapped: "To stop terrorists killing people in our society quite a long way, actually."
The outburst came as the panel discussed the forthcoming Communication Data Bill and the Interception Modernisation Programme, an intelligence services-led project to collect details of every call, text, email web chat and web browsing session. The Home Secretary officially announced a consultation on the Bill on Wednesday. Our analysis of the plans is here and we've written about the arguments in government and industry here, here and here.
Ignoring Jacqui Smith's call for "a well-informed debate, characterised by openness, rather than mere opinion, by reason and reasonableness" in her Tuesday speech, Hoon continued last night: "And if they're going to use the internet to communicate with each other and we don't have the power to deal with that then you're giving a licence to terrorists to kill people.
"The biggest civil liberty of all is not to be killed by a terrorist," the minister concluded, finger wagging. ®
*Available on iPlayer here. The relevant section begins at 48:20.