Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Bassam of Brighton: I agree that we need to take it seriously. However, the noble Lord is perhaps taking the reductio ad absurdum argument to its nth degree here. "Broadcast for general reception" has a fairly obvious meaning. It could not possibly refer to pager messages to a closed group. A pager network is a full part of a telecommunications network and, as I have made plain, pagers are clearly caught by Clause 2(2)(c). I therefore do not quite understand that particular difficulty about the definition. I believe that we are in the right territory here in terms of how this should work. I simply invite the noble Lord to reflect on some of the observations that I have made. If there are further questions or points to be raised in relation to this matter, we can, of course, deal with them at a later stage.

12 Jun 2000 : Column 1424

Lord Lucas: I should prefer it if the noble Lord did the reflecting. General reception is exactly what pagers are about. The pager system has no knowledge whatsoever of where an individual pager is. It sends out a signal over the whole of the United Kingdom and it is just picked up by my pager. Mobile phones know, within a cell, where somebody is within a few hundred yards or a few miles, but within that area of the country the signal is again sent out for general reception. "Reception" merely means that I am allowed to receive it, that I do receive it. My pager is at this moment receiving every single message sent out on that system. My pager is not operating on a unique frequency. All sorts of messages are being received by my pager at the moment. It does not happen to be buzzing, because they are not for me, but the signals are sent out for general reception and they are received generally; they are just not acted on by my pager. There is no difference between the technology employed in television and the technology employed in pagers so far as transmission and reception are concerned. The two clearly must fall within the same box.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: Before I make a few short observations, I want to add to the comments of those who have already spoken on Amendment No. 14; that the dubiety expressed on the issues debated this afternoon gives the lie to the Minister's confidence that this is a clearly defined phrase.

I thank the Minister for his comments on Amendments Nos. 5, 9 and 11. He dealt with the origin and destination point. However, he did not touch at all on my main concern relating to how datagrams or search requests will fall in this Bill. Will they, as I think the drafting now intends, be treated as communications data, or will they be treated as communications having content entitling them to warrant prior to search and access? I should be grateful if the Minister would think about that. I believe that it has a very wide and deep significance for the Bill as a whole.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am not sure how wide and deep that significance might be. However, I acknowledge the noble Lord's point that perhaps my comments have not covered his observation that one cannot look at each communication, each piece of data, separately. The noble Lord made the point that one needs to look at it cumulatively, that one can detect patterns and that although there may be an analysis that applies to patterns, one can in fact detect something else. I entirely understand that point, and I undertake to reflect further on it. However, I do not believe that it poses to us a general problem that we have not already thought through in terms of the way in which the legislation is intended to work. I undertake to give further thought to that issue and to how this piece of the drafting affects that point.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

12 Jun 2000 : Column 1425

6.15 p.m.

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 6:


    Page 3, line 25, leave out from ("which") to ("there") in line 30.

The noble Lord said: This amendment picks up a general question on the drafting of this part of the Bill. As it is expressed here, I am concerned that it fails to catch particular kinds of communications systems. First, if I choose to connect my private telecommunications system through a dish on my roof to a satellite, that appears to fall outside the Bill because under subsection (a), which I seek to delete, it is no longer attached directly or indirectly to a public telecommunications system, because public telecommunications systems are only those systems which have equipment in the UK.

My second point is that we appear to be in danger of having a definition of what falls within a private telecommunications system which will not mesh with similar definitions if they are employed in other countries, and thus leave loopholes where there is not total coverage of what can and cannot fall within similar legislation in other countries. From the point of view of the prevention of international malfeasance, that is a bad idea. It seems to me that our jurisdiction should depend on whether there is apparatus in the United Kingdom. If there is no apparatus in the United Kingdom, we clearly have something which is entirely outside our jurisdiction; but if there is apparatus in the United Kingdom, it ought to fall within our jurisdiction. I therefore propose that simplification. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: Some businesses have an internal telephone system which is free-standing and is solely the internal system, whereas in other businesses the more modern practice is to have an internal telephone system which is also connected to the external system. I cannot understand why there should be a separate regime, with regard to interceptions, for these two different types of internal telephone system. But if the words which my noble friend seeks to leave out remain in the Bill, a totally free-standing internal telephone system would be treated differently from one which happens to be connected to the public system as well. I cannot see the reason for wanting to treat them differently.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I understand that Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 8 would widen the scope of prohibition on interception to include interception of entirely self-standing private systems. I hope that that is a correct understanding of the amendments.

Under the Interception of Communications Act 1985, only the interception of communications in the course of their transmission by means of a public system is unlawful. The Bill extends this to make unlawful also interception on a private system attached to a public system; for example, an office or hotel network, or the telephones in a domestic household. This extension seeks to implement the requirement of Article 5 of the European Telecommunications Data Protection Directive.

12 Jun 2000 : Column 1426

Framing the terms of the extension has not been without difficulty and we have done so cautiously in order to avoid inadvertently making any legitimate activity unlawful; for example, criminalising a teenager for picking up a second handset in his or her own home. I know that one might consider that to be somewhat fatuous, but it could happen and we could have the ludicrous position of criminalising that activity. We do not seek to do that. There is no legal requirement for the scope of unlawful interception to be further extended; while to do so in a way proposed by the amendment would include the interception of walkie-talkies, garage door and video player remote control systems and a whole host of other free-standing systems which we do not believe it would be right to make unlawful in this context. I am sure that the noble Lord, in moving the amendment, did not seek to make it unlawful in that context.

I hope that that explanation helps the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment and I look forward to hearing his reflections on those points.

Lord Lucas: I suspect that that convinces me. I shall certainly read Hansard, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 7 to 9 not moved.]

Lord Lucas moved Amendment No. 10:


    Page 4, line 3, leave out ("for the purpose of ") and insert ("one of the purposes of which is").

The noble Lord said: I want to pick up the singularity of purpose in the Bill that telecommunication must have,


    "for the purpose of facilitating the transmission of communications".

At times in my house I have used electrical cable for doing that because baby alarms are commonly sold on that basis. Indeed, wider networks are based on it, as are other means of communication. For instance, if it were not broadcast for general reception, the teletext system would be just such a communication system. There is the possibility of putting communications down other conduits and I suggest that one of the purposes should be telecommunication but not the sole purpose. I beg to move.

Lord Bach: We see where the noble Lord is coming from. The Bill does not state "sole purpose"; it states "for the purpose of". We would say that that probably implies the major purpose; not necessarily the only one, but the major purpose.

Amendment No. 10 seeks to widen the scope of the definition of a telecommunication system, to be found at Clause 2(1), to include systems only one of whose purposes is to facilitate the transmission of communications. We believe that the existing wording already provides for this. Perhaps by example I may put to the noble Lord the proposition that were technology in the future to be developed which permitted the National Grid to be used as a means of transmitting telecommunications, various adaptations

12 Jun 2000 : Column 1427

to the grid would need to be made, such as the addition of routers and so on. The grid would become part of a system which had as one of its purposes facilitating the transmission of communications. As such, it would then fall within the definition in subsection (1).


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page