Keith Bristow, head of of the National Crime Agency (the UK’s FBI), is arguing Britain’s snooping powers are “too weak”.
In an interview with The Guardian, the NCA’s director general said police need new powers to monitor data about emails and phone calls. He admits many don't see the police case for comms data snooping while arguing that it is nonetheless necessary in order to keep the public safe from serious criminals and terrorists.
“What we have needs to be modernised… we are losing capability and coverage of serious criminals,” Bristow told the left-leaning broadsheet. “Some of our capability is challenged. Very significantly challenged,” he added.
Home Secretary Theresa May last week committed the Conservatives to implementing a communications data bill if the Tories win the general election next year. Giving the state greater access to communications data has been dubbed a “snoopers’ charter” by critics, with some even going so far as to compare it Soviet-era state surveillance.
Bristow said it was necessary to win the public consent to losing some freedoms in return for greater safety and security. Even though he criticised the Snowden leaks as a betrayal, the policing boss acknowledged that the public concerns about excessive government invasion of privacy and secret mass surveillance programmes were legitimate. He admitted winning over public trust would be far from easy.
“The [rogue NSA sysadmin Edward] Snowden revelations have damaged public confidence in our ability, whether it’s law enforcement or the intelligence agencies, to access and use data in an appropriate and proportionate way,” said the former chief constable of the small Warwickshire force.
Separately, Bristow expressed concerns that US and UK pullout from Afghanistan might lead to an increase in the volume of heroin reaching Britain’s streets. He argued that the threat from terrorism and organised crime can’t be tackled in isolation from each other as well as noting that cybercrime was becoming a bigger problem. ”Some of the cybercriminals we are dealing with, it’s not as easy as finding a door that we can kick in,” he noted.
Bristow said he could see “advantages” if the government stripped Scotland Yard of its leadership role in the fight against terrorism, arguing that capabilities and tactics in fighting organised criminals and terrorists are often the same. The implication of this would be for the National Crime Agency to lead the fight against both terrorism and organised crime. ®