Statistics, false statistics and damned government lies – the Communications Bill and Theresa May
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has today re-iterated her and the government’s commitment to the Communications Bill, dubbed by many the snooper’s charter. She was answering questions from the joint parliamentary committee examining the proposals.
I wasn’t there and I have no transcript, so I’m taking the BBC report at face value. It says:
“The aim of this is to ensure our law enforcement agencies can carry on having access to the data they find so necessary operationally in terms of investigation, catching criminals and saving lives.” (said May)
Of the 30,000 estimated cases last year where the police made an urgent request for communications data, between 25% and 40% of them resulted in lives being saved.
Draft Communications Bill: May says web monitoring will save lives
I’ve never heard this before. Between 7500 (25% of 30,000) and 12,000 (40% of 30,000) lives were saved last year because of urgent police requests for communications data? I’ll be honest here: I don’t believe it.
But the question remains, where have these figures come from. Even this government wouldn’t dare pluck random figures from the ether without some face-saving backup.
Well, back in June the Home Office published a document called Communications Data Bill – key background information. It includes the following:
Many tens of thousands of communications data requests are made every year in urgent threat to life situations: e.g. to find a vulnerable or missing person or in kidnap situations.
Communications Data Bill – key background information – 14 June 21012
Ten thousand is not many tens of thousands. Twenty thousand is just a couple of tens of thousands. Thirty thousand could – at a pinch – be described as ‘many tens of thousands’. Logically, then, the figure mentioned back in June accounts for the entire 30,000 cases ‘where the police made an urgent request for communications data’ last year mentioned today by May. It’s the same 30,000 in both cases.
Those requests are largely (we can assume, since that is all that is mentioned) to do with missing persons and kidnaps. (I would guess that kidnaps are far fewer than missing persons requests.) This assumption has some weight because the next premise could, at a pinch, be true: if a missing person is not found, he or she could be presumed dead; or at least would have died if not found. Tenuous, but arguable.
This could easily be used to justify a claim that between 25% and 40% of such requests led to missing persons being found and lives being saved. And I don’t believe anyone would object to communications providers handing over limited intelligence (after all, they know precisely who they are looking for) as quickly as possible in these cases.
Where these figures cannot be used is to justify the blanket surveillance of the entire population on the basis that we’re all potential terrorists and criminals; and that just because missing children and vulnerable lives are saved, so will many more because of the Communications Bill.
That is such a blatant distortion and misuse of statistics that it goes beyond being damned statistics and is a pure and simple blatant lie.