The world is a dangerous place and the UK must maintain its capability to defend its citizens in the digital age, Home Secretary Theresa May has stated.
Speaking at the annual Lord Mayor’s Defence and Security Lecture in London, the Home Secretary talked of the threat the country faces, including that from British people returning home from the conflict in Syria.
The Home Secretary said that threat – whether from terrorism or organised crime – is changing fast and, on that basis, the UK needs the capabilities to defend its interests and protect its citizens.
Theresa May stressed it was important to talk about the balance between privacy and security “in the full context of the threats we face” rather than “in a strange vacuum, as if the debate was entirely academic”.
The Home Secretary stated: “The terrorist threats to this country and our interests are changing faster than at any time since 9/11. We continue to face possible attacks by Al Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but we face further threats from Syria and now from Iraq where Al Qaida, ISIL and others have created a safe haven with substantial resources including advanced technology and weapons.”
May continued: “They are on the doorstep of Europe, just a few hours’ flying time from London, and they want to attack us – not just in Syria or Iraq but here in Britain.”
Challenges to be faced
The Home Secretary told the guests at Mansion House that it’s important to be clear about the UK’s capabilities and the challenges faced in maintaining them in a digital age.
“We are living more of our lives online, using an array of new technology,” said May. “This is hugely liberating and a great opportunity for economic growth. However, this technology has become essential not just to the likes of you and me but also to organised criminals and terrorists.”
The Home Secretary added: “Far from having some fictitious mastery over all this technology we, in democratic states, face the significant risk of being caught out by it. Governments have always reserved the power to monitor communications and to collect data about communications when it’s necessary and proportionate to do so. It is much harder now – there is more data, we do not own it and we can no longer always obtain it. I know some people will say ‘hurrah for that’ – but the result is that we are in danger of making the Internet an ungoverned, ungovernable space and a safe haven for terrorism and criminality.”
Loss of capability: the great danger
The Home Secretary described loss of capability as “the great danger we face”. May said: “The real problem is not that we have built an over-mighty state but that the state is finding it harder to fulfil its most basic duty which is to protect the public. That is why I have said before – and I will go on saying – that we need to make changes to the law to maintain the capabilities we require.”
In conclusion, Theresa May explained: “Yes, we have to make sure that the capabilities can only be used with the right authorisation and with appropriate oversight, but this is quite simply a question of life and death. A matter of national security. We must keep on making the case until we get the changes we need.”