The Home Secretary has defended her department's decision to resurrect net-snooping plans that were abandoned by the previous Labour government in 2009.
Theresa May, writing in The Sun, finally put forward her opinion two days after the tabloid's sister paper – The Sunday Times – ran a story containing a small amount of information leaked to it from an anonymous Home Office source.
Most of that piece, however, was a rehash of much of what had already been said about the Communications Capabilities Development Programme (CCDP) in July 2011, as we explained here.
But the Home Office's frankly strategic management of the news was effective enough to capture the headlines yesterday and now the Home Sec has finally waded in.
She adopted the well-worn line that the interwebs is a dangerous place for kids because it isn't just used by ordinary folk but also by horrible criminals and nasty paedophiles.
May added that the police and spooks already gather data from phone records to help solve crime and protect the British public against terrorist attacks.
"Last year, police smashed a major international child pornography website based in Lincolnshire. They then used internet data analysis to find other suspected paedophiles," she said.
"Such data has been used in every security service terrorism investigation and 95 per cent of serious organised crime investigations over the last 10 years. We cannot afford to lose this vital law enforcement tool. But currently online communication by criminals can't always be tracked."
May echoed the Coalition's Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who insisted to ITV News yesterday that no central database would be built to retain information garnered from such an internet-snooping plan.
"There are no plans for any big government database. No one is going to be looking through ordinary people's emails or Facebook posts. Only suspected terrorists, paedophiles or serious criminals will be investigated," said the Home Secretary.
The Register can't help but note the language here: To repeat, May said no big government database would be created - leaving us here in Vulture Central to wonder if that's because instead there will be a clutch of small ones.
In the same piece for The Sun, Tory MP and civil liberties campaigner David Davis labelled the government's plan a "snooper's charter" and questioned why such a new law was needed. He said such a strategy would turn British citizens into a "nation of suspects".
As El Reg noted yesterday, CCDP is expected to be announced in the Queen's Speech on 9 May, and the Home Office told this reporter last month that it was hoping to "legislate as soon as possible".
However, a public outcry has already kicked off. Inevitably, people are already being urged to sign a petition against the plan. Meanwhile, the Home Office has clumsily tried its hand at managing social media by using a Twitter hashtag, #telldaveeverything, that was set up to make a sarcastic jibe at Prime Minister David Cameron's Orwellian behaviour.
As one bloke on Twitter pointed out: "Dear government, '1984' was supposed to be a dystopian fiction novel, not an instructional manual".
Twitter was also the place where an apparent Lib Dem internal briefing note about CCDP (PDF, zipped) was first leaked yesterday afternoon. London-based NGO Privacy International later verified that the document was genuine. The NGO went on to point out that the document contained factual errors and said it appeared to have been written to help convince the junior half of the Coalition to approve the Home Office's net-snooping proposal.
"Debates around communications interception are always plagued by the complexity of the issues at stake. However, given that the Communications Capabilities Development Programme represents one of the most significant threats to civil liberties this country has faced in the past five years, I would have hoped that MPs were at least being given clear and coherent information about it," said PI's executive director Gus Hosein.
Some have questioned where indeed the Lib Dems have been on this civil liberties debate. Junior Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone labelled the press coverage of the net-snooping plans as a "complete nonsense", before repeating Clegg's assertion that "no central database" would be created for such a system.
So, that's all right then! ®