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Security Minister condemns ‘unjustifiable’ objections to data-sharing crime law

The Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill seeks to tackle a 700% rise in child abuse being reported by tech companies in the last five years.

Parliament is considering new security measures (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
Parliament is considering new security measures (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Security Minister Ben Wallace has condemned “unjustifiable” objections to a new law aimed at helping police catch paedophiles.

The Crime (Overseas Production Orders) Bill seeks to tackle “an epidemic” of child abuse by allowing quicker access to data held in computer servers in the United States.

MPs have given their backing to the Bill, but Mr Wallace warned a Lords amendment insisting on assurances over the death penalty could still wreck the legislation and allow paedophiles to walk free.

Peers have previously defeated the Government in a bid to prevent electronic data being supplied to the US in cases which could involve the death penalty.

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Security Minister Ben Wallace (John Stillwell/PA)

The Bill allows law enforcement agencies to apply for a UK court order to get stored electronic data from overseas in a bid to counter serious crime and terrorism.

Speaking to the Press Association ahead of the Bill’s return before peers on Monday, Mr Wallace said the “glitterati in the House of Lords” needed to get real and drop the amendment.

He said: “It is horrendous. To stand in the way of police officers getting timely access to that data is just unjustifiable.

“It’s not about political division, it’s about protecting children.

“The point is some people have decided to try and exploit this Bill to play ideological posturing on the back of security and that is not acceptable.

“Indulging in theoretical and gilded isolation from some in the House of Lords goes against everything the Labour Party and the Tory Party stand for.”

The Security Minister has previously warned the Commons of a 700% rise in child abuse being reported by tech companies in the last five years, and told MPs accessing data would mean child rapists and others could be caught within days, not years.

He said: “I had to listen to a paedophile plot via an online chatroom to kidnap, rape and kill a seven-year-old girl, about the same age as my daughter.

“If that wasn’t sickening enough, I could sense the frustration of detectives who needed data from overseas to stop the abuse being committed, because in case after case timing is everything in these investigations.

“At the moment the system we use is slow and clunky and can take months and often years.

“I hope this Bill will lay the way for that treaty that allows us to go from years and months, and sometimes not being able to continue with a case because the data has gone, down to days and weeks.”

There are people live-streaming abuse and the quicker we get the data the quicker we can stop it Ben Wallace

The National Crime Agency (NCA) estimates there are up to 80,000 predators who pose a threat to children, the minister said, with 1,600 police referrals in 2014 rising to 10,000 referrals in 2017.

Urging the Lords to “come into the real world” Mr Wallace stressed how delays meant children would continue to be abused and in the worst cases, crucial data had been erased before it could be obtained by police.

“There are people live-streaming abuse and the quicker we get the data the quicker we can stop it,” he said.

“In some cases we have not progressed paedophile cases because we simply haven’t been able to get hold of the data in time.

“In other cases abuse is happening while we are still trying to get to the bottom of it because it takes so long to get the data – that’s a real, unnecessary and awful tragedy.

“We have cases where we have managed to safeguard the children but we haven’t been able to stop the person doing it because we still haven’t got the data.”

Mr Wallace said plans begun under US President Barack Obama would allow British prosecutors to bypass foreign courts and apply directly to the 99% of tech companies based outside the UK for data relating to child abuse.

But the Security Minister said the treaty enabling this had to be “no strings attached” because the Americans were doing the UK a favour.

Mr Wallace labelled the Lords’ fears over the death penalty “unfounded”,”theoretical” and “implausible”, adding that in cases over the last 20 years there was “not a single occasion where any of this would be a problem”.

He said: “Asking for this data and for the Americans to remove the current obstacles on our behalf, which has never been done before, but then suddenly asking for lots of strings attached is not a place that the United States is prepared to go.

“They are doing us a favour, we are not doing them one.

“I would appeal to the Lords to recognise the strength of feeling in the House of Commons and to recognise that at its heart it’s about safeguarding our citizens.”

PA

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