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

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.