Spy laws must be examined, but no quick fix: British PM

Spy laws must be examined, but no quick fix: British PM

Summary: Despite thinking that the public is not that concerned about data and communication privacy issues, the British prime minister has acknowledged that legislation around these must be modernised.


British Prime Minister David Cameron has told a parliamentary enquiry that the public is less concerned with the Snowden revelations, but that law enforcement agencies must carefully explain their needs if they want to modernise communications data legislation.

Cameron fronted the UK parliament's Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy on Thursday to provide evidence as a witness. He said that he is concerned that the media's reaction to release information from US whistleblower Edward Snowden could have undermined national security, and cautioned newspapers to "think before they act".

Despite this, he also said that the general public is less concerned with the communication and privacy issue than the media makes it out to be.

Either way, he acknowledged that the question of who has access to data and why are important to address, and that over time, legislation would need to be modernised to better tackle these issues. In terms of timing, however, he did not expect this to happen soon, and, in the meantime, actions outside of legal changes may be required.

"I'm not sure we'll make progress on it in the coming months in terms of legislation. There may be some things short of legislation which we can do."

Modernising legislation will also mean providing law enforcement agencies with modern data, according to Cameron.

To demonstrate his argument for providing these agencies with more powers, he drew on his love for TV crime drama, stating that these shows rarely have instances where mobile phone metadata is not used to catch criminals.

He was very careful to point out that it was the metadata, not the actual contents of phone calls or emails, that provided the necessary information to help solve crimes.

Cameron did not advocate for law enforcement agencies to have free access to this data either, though. Those requesting the information would need to have a good reason for doing so, and that any legislation would need to carefully balance the considerations of civil liberties groups.

"We have got to make this explanation very clearly, really get it out to people and then build, perhaps at the start of the next parliament, a cross-party case for sensible legislation to deal with this issue," the prime minister said.

Topics: Government, Government UK, Privacy

Michael Lee

About Michael Lee

A Sydney, Australia-based journalist, Michael Lee covers a gamut of news in the technology space including information security, state Government initiatives, and local startups.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • He probably shouldn't be telling people...

    ...what the public thinks (it's hardly unanimous, and the assessments of politicians tend to be self-serving). But the positive aspect of the Snowden revelations is that governments are being forced to reconsider and justify their secrecy laws and policies, which needs to happen from time to time (at least once every 20 years or so).
    John L. Ries
  • Bold Statement

    I'm unsure how one man can speak for the masses in that way (isn't that the legislator's job), but it's good that this appears to be brought to the forefront of the public's view. I think we all know that this ends in the governments doing whatever they want to do, but, if enough people stand up (such as in the Ukraine), we may see change.

    Now is truly the only time that we have a chance to put sensible laws in place. If the next generation grows up with this as the status quo, along with a mightily censored internet...the world will surely be horrid for the remainder of this civilization.

    • The legislator's job...

      ...is to make laws in accordance with his understanding of the public interest, with the further understanding that his constituents have the privilege of replacing him at the next election if they want to.

      Politicians definitely need to be conscious of public opinion if they want to remain in office, but I'm suspicious when they claim to speak for The People for the reasons given in my initial post.
      John L. Ries
  • Qualifications

    1. Cameron ... judge the public mood ...?

    2. The public is generally as apathetic towards Government as it is towards privacy invasions ... or indeed American military invasions of other countries, backed by its obedient British puppy-dog.

    3. That the Government and public are insensitive to wrongdoing ... doesn't alter the fact that the doing is wrong.

    4. The next time a politician 'makes it clear' will be the first, so complete is their evasiveness.

    5. 'At the beginning of the next parliament' ... my goal would be to make sure Cameron is not in power.

    6. 'cross party case'. Yeah we could do with some sensible decisions taken on merit, not in keeping with obsolete and self-interested ideologies (the Americans are of course the supreme masters of self-interested ideology).

    7. 'balanced' - that would be nice for a change too. Instead of 'protecting the city' and 'our American ally' ... how about protecting the public, its privacy and curtailing GCHQ and the NSA big-time. Then cutting all links possible with the toxic US economy and corporate culture.

    8. 'Modern legislation' Now whose job is it to pass that then?

    The UK needs someone like Kroes or Merkel ... or maybe a maggie2 for a spell ... not this wimp.