Public Bill Committee: Data Protection Bill [Lords]: Transfers of personal data outside the United Kingdom - Law Enforcement

Mike Wood: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the legal framework that we rightly expect to apply to our law enforcement offers and agencies does not necessarily apply directly to our intelligence and security services? That, however, would be the effect of the amendment.


Liam Byrne Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy)

I am not sure that that would be the effect of the amendment. While I agree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s argument, I am cognisant of the fact that in 2013 the Court of the Appeal said that it was “certainly not clear” that UK personnel would be immune from criminal liability for their involvement in a programme that entailed the transfer of information to America and a drone strike ordered using that information, without the same kinds of safeguard that the Obama Administration had. The amendment would ensure a measure—nothing stronger than that—of judicial oversight where such decisions were taken and where information was transferred. We must ensure a level of judicial oversight so that inappropriate decisions are not taken. It is sad that we need such a measure, but it reflects two significant changes over the past year or two: first, the dramatic increase in our ability to capture and process information, and, secondly, the crucial change in the rules of engagement under the Trump Administration.


Mike Wood: The right hon. Gentleman is being kind and generous with his time. He says that the amendments would not replicate the frameworks for law enforcement, yet amendment 160 would do exactly that by applying clauses 74, 75 and 76 to the test for data sharing for intelligence and security services. Those exact safeguards were designed for law enforcement, not for intelligence and security sharing.


Liam Byrne Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy)

The point for the Committee is that the thrust of the amendment is not unreasonable. Where there is a multiplication of the power of intelligence agencies to capture and process data, it is not unreasonable to ask for that greater power to bring with it greater scrutiny and safeguards. The case for this sensible and cautious amendment is sharpened because of the change in the rules of engagement operated by the United States. No member of the Committee wants a situation where information is transferred to an ally, and that ally takes a decision that dramatically affects the human rights of an individual—as in, it ends those rights by killing that person. That is not something that we necessarily want to facilitate.

As has been said, we are conscious of the difficulty and care with which our politicians have sometimes had to take such decisions. The former Prime Minister very sensibly came to the House to speak about his decision to authorise a drone strike to kill two British citizens whom he said were actively engaged in conspiring to commit mass murder in the United Kingdom. His judgment was that those individuals posed an imminent threat, but because they were not operating in a place where the rule of law was operational, there was no possibility to send in the cops, arrest them and bring them to trial.

The Prime Minister was therefore out of options, but the care that he took when taking that decision and the level of legal advice that he relied on were extremely high. I do not think any member of the Committee is confident that the care taken by David Cameron when he made that decision is replicated in President Trump’s White House.

We must genuinely be concerned and cautious about our intelligence agencies transferring information that is then misused and results in drone strikes that kill individuals, without the safeguards we would expect. The last thing anyone would want is a blowback, in either an American or a British court, on serving officers in our military or intelligence services because the requisite safeguards simply were not in place.

My appeal to the Committee is that this is a point of principle: enhanced power should bring with it enhanced oversight and surveillance, and the priority for that is the fact that the rules of engagement for the United States have changed. If there is a wiser way in which we can create the kinds of safeguard included in the amendment we will be all ears, but we in the House of Commons cannot allow the situation to go unchecked. It is too dangerous and too risky, and it poses too fundamental a challenge to the human rights that this place was set up to champion and protect.